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Bereaved witness: No police layoffs

Slain Lakewood officer's fiancée testifies before a state Senate panel on police and fire layoffs' effects.

TRENTON - The fiancée of a Lakewood police officer killed in the line of duty last month says the thought of fewer police on the streets makes her sick.

Kelly Walsifer's fiancé, Christopher Matlosz, was shot in the head as he sat in his police cruiser on Jan. 14. A Lakewood man has been charged with murder in the shooting.

Walsifer testified before the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee Monday as one of several invited witnesses at a hearing to examine the effect of police and firefighter layoffs on public safety.

"I don't want to get into politics, but we all know certain changes need to be made to make all officers always safe, extra safe," she said, repeating a phrase she said to Matlosz before he left for work each day. "The thought of laying off cops truly makes me sick to my stomach."

The number of officers killed in the line of duty across the nation recently is unacceptable, she said.

Walsifer, 24, told lawmakers she lost her true love and best friend last month. She said she had the courage to testify only because he was looking over her shoulder. She said she hoped no one else would experience such pain due to budget cuts and manpower shortages.

New Jersey police departments have been hit hard by layoffs in the last few months, with hundreds of officers losing their jobs in Camden, Atlantic City, Newark, and Trenton because of budget cuts.

In response to the layoffs of 60 officers in Atlantic City, the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association moved its spring convention from that city to Connecticut.

Some municipalities, including Lakewood, narrowly averted layoffs because their unions made concessions. Lakewood police Local 71 president Gary Przewoznik said the township consolidated health-insurance plans, saving enough to maintain five police officers' jobs.

The number of officers across the state is down 3,000 - about 11 percent - from a year ago, said Jim Ryan, spokesman for the state Police Benevolent Association. At the same time, there has been a spike in violent crime. Homicides rose by 15 percent last year over 2009 levels, the first increase in four years.

In Newark, 162 officers were laid off Nov. 30, the largest reduction the police force has seen in 32 years.

"You cannot take away the youngest, most aggressive officers that you have in this state, or in any community, and expect the citizens not to suffer," said Detective Jim Stewart, who is on Newark's auto-theft task force and the robbery squad.

Since the officers were laid off, he said, crime in Newark has spiked dramatically. Compared to the same period a year ago, he said murders are up 50 percent, robberies 38 percent, auto theft 40 percent, carjacking 400 percent, shootings 66 percent, and victims of shootings 118 percent.

"You can't tell me we didn't miss a beat," he said. "We need the finances to get these men and women back to work. It's only going to get worse."

Gov. Christie has been meeting with the mayors of Camden and Trenton to address the cities' fiscal woes and crime rates.

"We have to come up with 21st-century solutions to this law enforcement conundrum," Christie said at a news conference Monday. He went after his favorite target - unions - saying they needed to make concessions to save jobs and protect public safety.

In the latest violence against police, a female officer was critically wounded after pursuing a suspect Sunday night in Paramus.