A group of 74 police officers in New Jersey are suing Camden for back wages, saying the City refused to pay them overtime, NJ.com reports.
NJ Overtime Lawsuit Filed By 74 Former Officers
The Camden City Police Department was dissolved in 2013, with law enforcement duties passing on to a newly-established department designed to oversee all of Camden County. But before its disbanding, dozens of former officers say they were unfairly left out of overtime considerations, even though they were routinely made to work extra hours.
This isn’t the first time police officers have sought back wages from the City of Camden. In fact, the very same officers who have filed this new overtime lawsuit attempted to join a similar action back in 2016, but were barred from doing so.
3 Former Camden Officers Secured Back Wages In 2016
That first lawsuit, filed in 2012 by three former Camden City officers, ended in a settlement agreement, which saw each officer paid $750 in back wages. Alongside the officers’ compensation, the City was hit with $14,000 in legal fees and court costs. Now, the 74 officers who were shut out of the first settlement are back in court to fight again.
In a civil lawsuit filed in January 2018, the former law enforcement professionals accuse the Camden City government of trying to reduce overtime pay obligations by forcing officers to work longer hours, but not allowing them to record them. The officers are arguing that Camden’s alleged misconduct violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law that entitles the vast majority of workers in the United States, including many salaried employees, to an overtime wage for any hours worked over 40 in a single week.
Camden’s Experiment In Community Policing
Facing serious budget shortfalls and a crisis in public confidence, the Camden City Police Department, which employed around 460 officers, was disbanded in 2013. Camden is routinely ranked among America’s most dangerous cities and State officials hoped that turning away from punitive policing, toward a community-based approach, would help change things.
The policing responsibilities for Camden were subsumed under the Camden County Police Department, a new organization that, to this point, polices only within the city limits. Other municipalities in the County are free to join the police district, but none have as of yet. Even so, the Camden County police was designed, at least initially, to be very different from its forebears.
Non-Union Police Force
The new police force would not be unionized, a strategy that infuriated the Fraternal Order of Police, which had represented officers for the Camden City Police Department. And, in general, Camden would have far fewer officers. Around half of the City’s police force had already been laid off before the Camden City Police Department was even broken up, including most of the officers who have joined forces to sue for overtime wages.
New officers took their place, a total of 401 including 92 new recruits, had been sworn in by June 2013.The starting salary for a police officer in the Camden County Police Department was set at $47,177, the Press of Atlantic City reports. All of these measures cut costs; keeping the workforce non-union, in particular, would allow Camden County to reduce the fringe benefits owed to officers.
Community Policing Techniques
Changing the culture of policing in Camden, however, was an even bigger goal.
In the New York Times, reporter Joseph Goldstein called Camden “one of the most interesting experiments in American policing.” Officers are instructed to issue warnings to someone who has committed a traffic violation, rather than saddling the City’s residents, 40% of whom live below the federal poverty line, with tickets and fines. Instead of waiting for an ambulance to arrive, officers are being trained to drive wounded victims to the hospital. Handguns are a “tool of last resort,” according to CityLab. And, to encourage accountability, officers are tracked via GPS. Many are now wearing body cameras.
High Officer Turn-Over
In 2017, Camden saw its lowest homicide rate in 30 years. Violent and property crimes are down, too, as they are for most American cities. But the City’s also dealing with a high turnover rate; police officers, some of whom say they’re being kept on duty without prior notice, are leaving in droves. In the first 2 years after the Camden County Police Department was established, nearly 120 officers had quit. Today, the median salary for an officer in Camden County is just over $50,000, half that for the State at large.