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John Dougherty challenges use of DRPA officers to patrol Camden

A Delaware River Port Authority board member Monday challenged the possible use of DRPA police to help patrol Camden as that city faces police layoffs this month.

A Delaware River Port Authority board member Monday challenged the possible use of DRPA police to help patrol Camden as that city faces police layoffs this month.

The DRPA's chief executive, however, said no such plan was being considered by the bistate agency.

John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, a Philadelphia labor leader, raised a number of questions in his letter to chief executive John Matheussen about the possible use of DRPA police.

"What additional police training, if any, would be required, and who's paying for it?" Dougherty wrote. "What is the DRPA's liability or exposure if, God forbid, one of our redeployed officers gets injured or worse?"

Dougherty also asked why similar consideration was not given to helping patrol Philadelphia, "a city also in need of additional public safety personnel."

Matheussen said Monday that DRPA officers would not be used to fill in for laid-off Camden police.

"We have made no commitment, nor are we intending to make any commitment to redeploy any DRPA police officers," Matheussen said.

He said DRPA police officials attended two meetings last month with other national, state, and local law-enforcement agencies, called by Camden County officials, to discuss the Camden police layoffs.

Representatives of the county's prosecutor, sheriff, park police, and corrections unit attended the meetings, as well as police from DRPA, Conrail, NJ Transit, Rutgers University, and the state parole board.

Matheussen noted that DRPA police already patrol small areas of Camden around PATCO commuter train stations and parking lots, as well as at the bases of the Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges.

Any changes to current operations would have to be addressed by the DRPA board, he said.

Camden plans to lay off 180 of its 373 police officers, as well as firefighters and other city workers, to help close a budget deficit.

An attorney who represents the DRPA police officers' union said, "There are no plans that we know of to redeploy officers" to take up the slack for laid-off Camden police.

"DRPA police have always responded when Camden police need us and call for assistance," attorney Charles Joyce said. "And that won't change. But we hardly have the manpower to patrol the bridges now. . . . We're stretched really thin."

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