Hillside announces layoffs of five more police officers

At last Tuesday's Township Council meeting, Council President Frank Deo announced the potential layoffs of an additional five police officers and one part-time employee in the Health Department. Deo made the announcement when Police Officer Joseph Cocuzza, President of F.O.P. Lodge 82, pressed him for details of a new layoff plan adopted at the May 17 Township Council meeting. The Township Council voted unanimously in support of the layoff plan.

According to Officer Cocuzza, the F.O.P. attempted to avoid the layoffs by agreeing to several concessions proposed by Mayor Joseph Menza but ultimately rejected by the Township Council. Council member John Kulish, Chairman of the Finance Committee, asserted that the layoffs were necessary because the F.O.P. walked away from the bargaining table before an agreement could be reach. Police Chief Robert Quinlan expressed hope that both sides would continue negotiations and reach an agreement to avoid additional layoffs. Hillside Mayor Joseph Menza did not attend the meeting.

In the past year, the Hillside Police Department has lost eight police officers through attrition and an additional four through layoffs. The four police officers who were laid off in February- John Leshko, Antoine Brown, Dan Wanat and Joe Vetter- were the first ever laid off in the history of the Hillside Police Department. Chief Quinlan has described them as "among the finest men to ever wear the uniform of the Hillside Police Department." Vetter served in combat with the United States Marines in Iraq before being appointed to the Hillside Police Department.

In addition to the layoffs of four police officers in February, the township's only fulltime parking officer, Shanita Davis, was laid off last month. With the anticipated June 1 retirement of Deputy Chief Anthony Mayer, the Police Department will be reduced to 64 sworn members. If five additional officers are laid off on July 15, as suggested by Council President Deo, the department will be reduced to 59 sworn police officers, the lowest level since the 1960's.

Two of the five police officers facing layoffs on July 15 will complete a K-9 training program with the Union County Sheriff's Department next week. The Hillside Police Department has invested over $100,000 of federal forfeiture funds in the K-9 program, which includes the cost of two German Shepherds, training, and two specially-equipped vehicles for the new unit.

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