Murphy wants federal funds to boost N.J. state police ranks

Governor proposes second class of recruits amid rising gun violence

By: - April 19, 2022 7:00 am

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – FEBRUARY 02: A New Jersey State Police trooper looks on during Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

New Jersey will seek to expand its state police ranks in the coming fiscal year by launching a second class of would-be troopers, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

The move comes as the state emerges from a pandemic that strained multiple industries, law enforcement among them, and amid a surge in violent crime that has seen gun violence soar.

“Given the stress that’s related to the pandemic, we’ve seen — whether it’s car thefts or acts of violence of some other sort — we’ve seen that we can’t be standing still here. We can’t be standing in place,” Murphy said. “We’ve got to get bigger, stronger, more diverse. This is going to be a huge step in that direction.”

There were 1,410 shooting victims in 2021, a 41% rise from 2019, according to state police data. The surge in gun crime has spurred some legislators to consider exceptions to bail reforms enacted in 2017. Those reforms eliminated cash bail and gave judges latitude over which defendants are held while awaiting trial.

By law, most defendants, save those accused of serious, often violent crimes, now are released while waiting for their day in court.

The ranks of the New Jersey State Police have grown in most years of Murphy’s tenure as governor. There were just 2,639 troopers in July 2015, according to budget documents, but that number rose to 2,954 in July 2021, the end of most recent full fiscal year.

At present, there are 3,020 state troopers, Murphy said, adding that number should be more than 3,100.

“Usually, our state police classes are what we call attrition classes. We retire 100. We graduate 100, and we kind of just hang in that area,” said State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan. “But now with Gov. Murphy and the legislators’ support of this second class, we call it a growth class.”

State police are the sole law enforcement in 89 New Jersey municipalities.

The additional cost comes with a price tag of about $9 million: $4 million to train the new class of troopers and $5 million to pay salaries. Murphy said the additional class would be paid for using federal aid disbursed to the state under the American Rescue Plan.

New Jersey has roughly $3 billion in unallocated ARP aid remaining, though it’s not clear whether the governor’s request will need legislative approval.

Though budget language for the current fiscal year requires the Joint Budget Oversight Committee approve certain expenditures of federal funds, that language was absent from a budget proposal Murphy sent to the legislature last month.

Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) and Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex), budget committee chairs in their respective chambers, have each signaled the absence of similar language in this year’s proposal would be a sticking point in budget negotiations.

The additional salary costs will not stop a diversion from the $125.9 million 911 System and Emergency Response Trust Fund, Murphy said.

County officials have urged the state to devote those moneys to improve county 911 systems, but Murphy’s budget plan calls for the funds to be used to offset the costs of the state police budget, alongside a handful of other emergency response expenses.

Pot police

In a memo sent last week to law enforcement executives around the state, Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin said state law allows New Jersey’s police officers to consume legally purchased marijuana while off-duty, but that could soon change.

Murphy reiterated that police officers who are impaired while on-duty would “be dealt with aggressively.” He said he would support excluding law enforcement officers from a state law that bars employers from firing, disciplining, or refusing to hire workers for off-hours marijuana use.

“Would I be open-minded to a legislative fix that would address this?” he said. “The answer is yes.”

New Jersey is set to begin recreational marijuana sales on Thursday.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.