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Corrections Officers Seek More Staff; Sheriff Cites ‘Perfect Storm’

Attorney Katherine D. Hartman addresses freeholders March 12 on behalf of Cape May County Corrections Officers

By Al Campbell

CREST HAVEN – About 25 Cape May County Corrections Officers, members of Fraternal Order of Police, Cape May County Lodge 7, who staff the County Correctional Facility, attended the March 12 freeholders’ meeting to show support for additional personnel.
Attorney Katherine D. Hartman of Moorestown, labor counsel for the FOP, spoke for the increased staff as did retired Corrections Officer David Robinson.
According to an earlier email from Tom Martino, president of Cape May County FOP Lodge 7, members were present “to make the freeholders aware of the ongoing need for additional officers severely needed to man the posts in the new correctional center.”
Hartman cited an “intense increase in overtime (3,289 hours) since Jan. 14,” when the new facility opened.
“In addition to being disruptive to the officers it is an expense to the county,” she said and cited “mandatory overtime” on 16-20 hour shifts causing fatigue and posing threats to officers’ safety.
She cited figures from the Center for Disease Control that found such long hours could jeopardize officers and inmates if, perchance, there was an uprising in one of the 64-inmate pods, staffed by a direct-supervision officer.
She also noted that driving after prolonged hours was similar to driving with an impaired blood alcohol level.
By Hartman’s estimate of overtime since Jan. 14, at $44 per hour, she said the county has expended $146,376 in overtime. Should that continue, she said, the bill at year’s end could total over $1 million.
Further, Hartman cited the human side of such overtime demands. An officer had requested a personal day and sick time off to be with his father-in-law who was being taken off life support in a Camden hospital and was denied.
“This leads to more turnover and creates more overtime,” she said.
Sheriff: ‘Perfect Storm’
Sheriff Robert Nolan, after the meeting, said the overtime situation was created “by a perfect storm.”
He noted that an inmate was taken to an out-of-county hospital in December. Because of the inmate’s degree of crimes, he must be guarded by two officers in that hospital around the clock. That situation has pressed not only corrections officers into overtime, but also called on Sheriff’s Officers for the duty, Nolan said.
While the corrections officers claim a need for 18 additional officers, Nolan said the county has hired seven who must undergo training.
He also said that use of sheriff’s officers inside the correctional facility is not allowed.
Nolan noted that training for a corrections officer is not the same as a sheriff’s officer. Corrections officers can be trained on-site while sheriff’s officers must attend police academy training.
Nolan further stated that freeholders had been supportive of his needs, and agreed to “take a look” at the correctional facility’s personnel needs at year end to assess the need for more staff.

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