Camden County is dunning dozens of towns statewide to recover its costs of training for the county police force officers who then left after a short time to join other jurisdictions.
Since the creation in May 2013 of the Camden County Police Department, which patrols only the city of Camden, more than 100 officers have resigned. At least 50 have taken jobs with other departments, most of them at the Jersey Shore.
State law mandates that if an officer is trained in a municipality, and quits in less than two years and then joins another police force within 120 days, the new municipality owes all or some of the cost of training the officer.
Most of the 30 municipalities the county has gone after have agreed to reimburse the county, said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. It has filed suit against a few.
While it's common for towns in New Jersey to recoup police training costs, the scale of the effort in Camden - where the county-run police force records some of the highest turnover in the state - is unusual, police and other officials outside Camden said.
"That amount of people, that's massive," said Bob Fox, president of the New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Police and a former Cherry Hill police officer.
"Usually," he said, "it's no big deal, because it's usually, like, one cop."
Depending on previous training, it costs between $5,000 and $23,500 to train, test, and compensate a recruit. The county is seeking to recover a total of nearly $166,000, according to spokesman Dan Keashen.
Retaining its police officers is one of several hurdles the department has faced since its inception.
The former police union and several dozen officers had filed a lawsuit to challenge the county's authority to dismantle the former city police department, saying the termination of city officers was illegal and a union-busting move.
On Wednesday, an appellate court upheld a decision by Superior Court made in May 2014 that the creation of the force was legal.
Cappelli, in a statement, said the county takeover "has enhanced and changed the public safety paradigm in the city of Camden." Anthony Valenti, who represented the former officers, could not be reached.
Faced with constant attrition, the county department fields 350 officers, below its goal of 426. Some officers have cited 16-hour shifts, which have been exacerbated by the staff shortages, and long commutes from other parts of the state and low morale as reasons for leaving.
County officials, who have pointed to a reduction in violent crime in Camden, said that they cannot require officers to stay for a minimum amount of time, and that no other department in New Jersey is hiring as many officers.
After officers - many from North Jersey or Shore towns - join the Camden force, their names remain on the civil service list for a year, county officials said.
"As other towns closer to their homes have the ability to hire, we sometimes lose officers from those towns," Cappelli said. "The departments are getting well-trained officers. In some ways, we're victims of our own success."
Colandus "Kelly" Francis, head of the Camden chapter of the NAACP, believes there may be another reason new officers come and go.
"The word gets around," Francis said. "Go to Camden. Get the free training, it won't cost you anything, and you come back to your home base."
Of the 30 municipalities it is seeking money from, the county has filed suit against seven - Deptford, West Deptford, Gloucester City, Haddonfield, Linwood, Asbury Park, and Tuckerton.
Cappelli said the county filed suit in July after not receiving a response, or being denied the dollars from the municipalities.
Since then, only Asbury Park and Deptford have not agreed to pay, he said. Officials in the two towns did not return requests for comment.
The Gloucester City case involves Officer Michael Calzonetti, who, after completing training at the county police academy in December, was a Camden County police officer for less than 30 days.
He resigned Jan. 3. Two days later, he was sworn in as a Gloucester City officer.
The county has sought $13,972 - or the full tab - for the cost of training him. That's because Calzonetti worked for fewer than 30 days.
For officers who have worked more than 30 days but less than two years, municipalities are required to pay half the cost, not the full amount.
Keashen said Gloucester City had agreed to the reimbursement. Brett Wiltsey, an attorney handling the case for Gloucester City, and its police department declined to comment.
From Linwood, where four former Camden County officers joined the police force after resigning from their jobs last year, the county has sought $19,177 in training costs. Linwood Police Capt. John Hamilton said he could not comment due to the litigation.
Camden County officials said they were trying to attract more job candidates from the local area to keep officers longer.