Police rallied Monday to protest the layoffs of 125 officers in Paterson, N.J., while the mayor promised to hire back police as soon as possible.
The layoffs of a quarter of the police force come after the city eliminated 392 municipal workers out of a workforce of nearly 2,000 to combat a $70 million budget deficit.
The officers and their union representatives wore T-shirts bearing Monday's date — the effective date of the layoffs — and carried signs with the message, "Less cops (equals) more crime." They said the layoffs could have been avoided.
"One of the hardest things I've had to do, besides burying my mother, is saying goodbye to my (police officer) partner," said John Donofrio, one of the laid-off officers. He said he worked for five years as a corrections officer before joining the Paterson force in November 2009.
"We understand that this city that has given us so much has been asked to give back," said Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones. He said grant money should enable the city to rehire 25 of the laid-off officers in July.
Reassignments within the police department and more involvement from community groups will be key to keeping crime in check in a city that saw 65 shootings last year, Jones said.
"Crime is crime, but crime happens because people have given up," he said. "We need not give up."
To help offset the difference, Jones invited the volunteer safety patrol known as the Guardian Angels to begin patrolling the city. They arrived on Sunday.
Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa says members keep an eye on neighborhoods, break up fights and make citizen arrests. The group hopes to recruit Paterson residents to take over the patrols.
Police union president Steve Olimpio said using the volunteer force "is like knowing the tsunami is coming and putting up 100 sandbags."
"At the end of the day, 125 police officers are going home without a job, without a paycheck in two weeks," Olimpio said.
The layoffs in Paterson come as budget cuts across the state have forced several of New Jersey's largest cities to cut back their law enforcement operations. Hundreds of officers have been let go in Newark, Trenton, Camden and Atlantic City because of budget cuts.
An agreement in January between the union and city officials in Jersey City saved 82 police positions that were slated for layoffs. The city of Orange secured a federal safety grant to rehire 12 laid off firefighters and hire 12 new firefighters.
Despite a few towns' successes in avoiding layoffs, the number of municipal police in New Jersey has decreased about 11 percent since the beginning of 2009, according to New Jersey State Policeman's Benevolent Association spokesman James Ryan. Part of the decrease was attributed to officers retiring and not being replaced, he said.
At the same time, a spike in violent crime saw homicides rise by 15 percent last year over 2009 levels, the first increase in four years.