Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd submitted a plan this afternoon to the state Civil Service Commission to lay off the city's entire police department, paving the way for a county-run force.
A source knowledgeable about the matter said no layoffs would occur until the new department has at least 250 officers patrolling the streets of Camden.
Once fully operational, the county force is expected to number about 400 - about 140 more officers than are on the present city police force.
Camden County officials, citing the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, yesterday extended their deadline for receiving applications for the new force by six weeks to Jan. 15. They have said they would only rehire up to 49 percent of the current roster so that the terms of the existing union contract do not extend to the new department.
In a news release, Robert Corrales, a city spokesman, said, the mayor "informed the local union presidents of the Fraternal Order of Police and Camden Organization of Police Superiors that the City of Camden submitted a layoff plan to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. This is a necessary step in the process as the City moves towards transitioning into the Camden Metro Police Division of the Camden County Police Department.
The Civil Service Commission has up to 30 days to approve or reject the plan, once it is received, said Peter Lyden, a commission spokesman. If the panel approves the plan, the city has to give the officers a 45-day notice of layoffs.
Corrales said the city and county is still in talks with state officials to finalize start-up funding for the county force.
County officials have said the new force, while larger, would cost just about the same as the present department in part because they expect to savings of $14 million from eliminating extras in the current police contract, such as shift differentials, and by increasing use of lower-paid civilians.
But officials have not released a detailed financial plan for the new force.
Camden's police budget for the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, was nearly $60 million - more than a third of the $167 million city budget.
Another $5 million to $6.5 million in start-up money will be needed to begin paying salaries for the initial new hires and to purchase equipment, among other things, officials have said.
Corrales said the city, county and state are still in negotiations on getting the start-up money from the state. On Wednesday, county officials blamed Sandy for the delay.
Gov. Christie has long expressed his support for the new force, but the governor has also asked Camden to start weaning itself from state aid, and has been slowly cutting the amount of state aid it provides the impoverished city.
County officials have said their plan is the only way to improve public safety in the city, which has seen a record 61 homicides so far this year.
Police unions and some residents have criticized the plan as a union-busting move that won't save money or keep the city safer. Critics said the current force should be given the resources to do better in fighting crime in the city.
So far, no suburban town has said it will join Camden in participating in the county-run force.