Police and firefighter unions in New Jersey's largest city have filed a lawsuit to try to stop Newark Mayor Cory Booker from imposing layoffs in two weeks.
The layoffs are scheduled to go into effect Nov. 12, and the suit claims some gang members in Newark are wearing T-shirts with that date printed on them in anticipation.
"These devastating cuts will butcher public safety in the city of Newark and will create unacceptable risks to firefighters, law enforcement and the safety and welfare of the public," the suit says.
Filed Wednesday, the lawsuit claims Booker can't order layoffs without the consent of the City Council. The council has opposed the action. The suit also alleges alternatives to layoffs weren't fully explored.
Last month, the state's Civil Service Commission approved Booker's plan to lay off 96 firefighters and 167 police officers. That number represents about 25 percent of the fire department and about 15 percent of the police department, according to the lawsuit.
In addition, more than 100 police captains, lieutenants and sergeants face demotion as part of the layoff action.
Booker didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The mayor has said the layoffs are necessary because of an $11 million gap in the city's budget.
The suit claims the city notified union leaders about the layoffs in August but didn't specify when they would occur or offer any other details. Attempts by the unions to discuss alternative ways to save money were rebuffed, according to the suit.
Attorneys for the unions sought to bring the matter up at regularly scheduled meetings of the Civil Service Commission, but meetings scheduled for Oct. 20 and Nov. 4 were canceled due to lack of a quorum while the commission seeks to fill two vacancies, the suit claims. A meeting with the commission is required for a stay of the layoffs.
Booker campaigned on a strong anti-crime platform, and violent crime in Newark has fallen since his election in 2006, when the city hit a 10-year high in murders. Lately, though, it has increased: Murders were up 25 percent this year through early October, and rapes and robberies were up 10 percent.
In September, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition with the Department of Justice seeking federal oversight of Newark's police department for what the ACLU called "an ingrained culture of lawlessness."
The petition cited numerous lawsuits brought by residents and department employees that have led to nearly $5 million paid in settlements over the last 2 1/2 years.
Police and city officials have called the ACLU's allegations frivolous and inaccurate.