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Sunday, June 16, 2024

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No Board Sentiment To Hike Prosecutor

By Rick Racela

CREST HAVEN — “We’ll go with what we got,” said Freeholder Ralph Sheets, the only one of the five-member board who might have been expected to reopen the county Prosecutor allocation in the county budget due to be adopted at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 28.
What Prosecutor Robert Taylor got was three new personnel; he requested 16.
“I did want more,” said Sheets, former Wildwood police chief, “but I thought I would get nothing.”
The freeholder discussions took place in private and, reportedly, no one knew for sure what would happen until the budget session of Jan. 19 when Freeholder Ralph Bakley, also a retired police officer, and Freeholder Gerald M. Thornton joined with Sheets in approving the new hires.  Freeholders Dan Beyel and Leonard Desiderio, unwilling to add anything to the Prosecutor’s office, voted no.
“Last year, the same thing happened,” said Sheets. “I didn’t get what I wanted; I got one or two. But in October or November it was brought up again and we gave him (the prosecutor) three more.
“Maybe later on down the line we can sit down and work something out,” said Sheets.
Taylor is not expected to wait for “down the line.” It is assumed that he will file a “Bigley action” in which both sides will argue their cases before the Superior Court assignment judge, who has the authority to order more staffing.
The county is thought to be at a disadvantage because of allegedly underfunding the prosecutor in the past and because it can hardly plead poverty. It is cutting taxes 3.5 cents this year and starts the year with a $20-million surplus.
“Public safety has to take precedence over budget frugality,” Taylor concluded in a seven-page report to freeholders of last August justifying his request.
It explains past staffing requests and examines key areas of criminal activity he says require more attention.
According to Taylor, the state Division of Criminal Justice, called in by former Prosecutor David Blaker to conduct a management review, concluded in 2000 that the office needed “an increase of 15 investigators,” one or two a year for the next five years.
That, pointed out Taylor, was prior to Sept. 11, 2001, which caused “significant additional responsibilities and duties placed upon our office.”
As examples of increased law enforcement responsibilities, Taylor cited:
Megan’s Law sex offenders. The county has 166 registered sex offenders to keep track of, plus others from other states “not pursued due to the lack of resources,” he said.
Counter terrorism/intelligence.  The county prosecutor is responsible for coordinating this and has followed up more than 120 leads.
Homeland Security/County Working Group. The county Prosecutor chairs the group, which is responsible for “efficient plans” and “significant training demands.”
School security: Surveys are required for “each of the 48 schools in the county.”
Economic crime.  With “lack of additional specialized resources,” the office can handle only the largest fraud and theft offenses.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs. Based on previous attendance, 600 rival gang members were expected at the Roar to the Shore in Wildwood last September.
Organized gangs.  Identified in this county: Bloods, Crips, Black Gangster Disciples, all of whom are increasing, plus Max Out, Young Gunners and the Dip Set Bird Gang.
Alarming Drug Trends.  In his letter dated Aug. 5, 2002, Taylor said there have been 46 overdoses and 13 deaths in this county during the previous six months.
DNA/crime scene.  With a need for more and more technical expertise, time needed often “exceeds the…resources of local police departments.”
Crime rate trends: Cape May County up 5 percent in 2005; surrounding counties and state down.
      — Joe Zelnik
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or: jzelnik@cmcherald.com

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