The Camden County Prosecutor's Office is preparing to lay off nearly a quarter of its staff, a spokesman said Monday, posing a new challenge for public safety officials after Camden City's move to cut half its police officers.
"It's a very, very high mountain to climb, and frankly we are at as low a staff level as we can be to still get the job done," said Jason Laughlin, office spokesman.
Barring retirements, concessions from unions, or additional money from the Camden County freeholders, the 50 layoffs would include about 15 of the 62 lawyers who prosecute crimes and more than 20 of the 74 detectives who handle investigations, Laughlin said.
Most of those investigations - including homicides, domestic-violence incidents, and any other indictable crime - involve Camden City. The city, ranked the second most dangerous in the country in a recent survey, is scheduled to lay off 180 of its 373 officers on Jan. 18 to close a budget deficit.
Until recently, officials had suggested that the Prosecutor's Office and other county agencies would help mitigate the shortfall in police.
"Nobody wants to see anyone lose their jobs," Laughlin said. "Nobody wants to see public safety get hurt in Camden."
Unlike the police, the Prosecutor's Office is funded by the county. The Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders is asking all law enforcement entities that it funds - including the Sheriff's Department and county jail - for 10 percent cuts, according to Laughlin, and that means $2.1 million in reductions at the Prosecutor's Office.
A layoff plan is expected to be formally sent to the state civil service commission for approval by Jan. 1, Laughlin said, and Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk would let employees know at that point if they were slated to lose their positions. Layoffs would not take effect for 45 days after approval.
The freeholders would not discuss the prosecutor's plans or confirm the proposal of 10 percent cuts to all county law enforcement agencies.
A spokeswoman released a statement from Camden County Administrator Ross Angilella: "The county is looking at every option for balancing the budget in the most rational manner possible in a very tough budget year. That means we're looking at public safety, management, and all the unions for cost savings to make sure we balance the budget. All options are on the table."
Laughlin said negotiations were continuing with county officials. "We're trying to find out if there's any flexibility with that number," he said.
The 10 percent cut would eliminate nearly a quarter of the jobs in the office because almost the entire department is unionized and under civil-service rules that first force out those with the least seniority - and lowest salary.
Of the jobs that would be eliminated, 31 percent would be the attorneys known as assistant prosecutors; 45 percent would be detectives known as investigators; and the rest would be clerical staff and specialized law enforcement personnel known as agents.
Representatives for the four unions affected could not be reached for comment.
As the chief law enforcement agency in the county, the Prosecutor's Office is legally required to be involved in all homicide investigations.
The office's crime scene investigation unit goes to the scenes of most suspicious deaths and drug overdoses. All cases of domestic violence, child sex assault, police misconduct, and juvenile crime in Camden County go through the office, and investigators often gather evidence at the scenes of other crimes because small police departments lack resources.
The Prosecutor's Office also takes the lead on cases involving large drug conspirators and serial bank robbers.
"If there's a significant crime in Camden County, we're involved in it," Laughlin said.
As evidence is gathered, assistant prosecutors work with detectives. Each prosecutor handles about 100 cases at one time, Laughlin said.
"When you have more work handled by fewer people, it means work will be handled faster and less thoroughly than it is now," he said.