The Camden County Police Department, which for two years has patrolled only the city of Camden, hopes to begin justifying its broader ambition by wooing a second town into its fold - Pennsauken Township.
County officials are expected to submit a detailed proposal this month to Pennsauken that would spell out how a county-run department would function in place of the township's current force, The Inquirer has learned.
Pennsauken Public Safety Director John Kneib stressed in an interview that the report would be just an early look at the idea, and that any final decision - which he said would require the support of residents and township police officers - was far off.
"It's got to blow us away," he said of the county's expected pitch.
The talks between the township and county officials have stirred concern among Pennsauken officers, said union president Detective Matthew Henkel, who called the situation unsettling.
"We're concerned about maintaining our jobs here," he said, "but also about the kind of service that Pennsauken would be subjected to" under a new police force.
Kneib said Camden County officials first approached the township early in 2014 about joining the county-run force. In a meeting later in the year, the county presented a nearly 20-page report on what the department could look like in Pennsauken, Kneib said.
Among the county's ideas, he said, were:
A 10-year contract, which either side could back out of at the end.
A reduction of officers from the 82 Pennsauken has now to closer to 70. "They felt we were overstaffed," Kneib said.
Cost savings in the millions for the township.
Kneib said that he felt the proposal was based on too many assumptions and that he wanted a more specific plan.
The township then submitted nearly 60 questions to the county about staffing levels and other issues, he said. The township also provided records indicating police response times and the types of calls officers respond to in Pennsauken, a township of 35,000 nearly half the size of Camden.
The county has reviewed those records for six months, Kneib said, and is expected to come back this month with its more detailed proposal.
County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr., who attended the Pennsauken meeting, did not return a call for comment. Jose Cordero, then a law enforcement consultant for the county, also attended, but on Friday deferred comment to the county.
A county-run force known as Camden County Metro patrols the city of Camden, whose original police department was disbanded two years ago in a move officials said was intended to slash costs and hire more officers.
The action stirred heated debate between police officers, who viewed it as a union-busting tactic, and city and county officials, who said officers' contracts were too expensive.
Camden city officials now say it costs $63 million to have 400 officers on the county force, about the same it cost for 300 officers on the old force.
Officials have also pointed to a sharp reduction in shootings and homicides in Camden as evidence that a county-run department could succeed in other towns.
If one were to form elsewhere, the county would create a suburban police division separate from the Metro division that patrols Camden, county spokesman Dan Keashen said.
That town would strike an agreement to pay for the police services, much like Camden city does, and officers would respond to calls only within their area, not in Camden, Keashen said.
Officers from disbanded departments could apply for police jobs with the county, Keashen said. As to whether every officer would receive a job, he said, "each individual municipality's going to be different."
In Camden, nearly 100 of the first 260 hires were members of the old force.
In Pennsauken, police are under a contract that runs through December 2018. The contract, negotiated in 2013, has officers starting at $47,000, about $3,000 less than in the previous agreement, said Henkel, the union president.
In Camden, officers start at $31,407.
Pennsauken Police Capt. Michael Probasco said his department had hired eight former Camden officers in the last several years.
He also said that in recent weeks, his officers had responded to three calls in Camden because police there could not respond. The calls included a car accident during the day and a domestic disturbance and an unruly ambulance patient at night, he said.
"It sounds like sometimes Pennsauken's better equipped to patrol our town than they [the county force] are the city," Probasco said. Keashen, the county spokesman, denied that Pennsauken police had responded to the calls in Camden.
Kneib said that Pennsauken's department did an excellent job but that it would be "foolish" not to listen to the county's pitch. He said towns were always looking to cut costs by sharing services.
Some in the county already do. Police in Haddon Township, for example, patrol the small community of Audubon Park under an agreement between the two municipalities.
Kneib said Pennsauken would hold town hall meetings if it decides to consider the county's plan.
"It's a scary thing when you say, 'Hey we're going to go from something that has provided a very, very good product and protection to something because we're going to save a dollar,' " Kneib said. "You can get a lot of pushback if you don't disseminate that information to the residents."
Kneib declined to disclose the total expense of maintaining the Pennsauken Police Department.
Camden County officials say they are also talking to a second municipality about replacing the police force there but have not identified it.
Officials in Woodlynne, a community of 3,000 people that has nine officers, said they met three times with county officials last year to hear the pitch but decided against joining.
Officials in every other municipality in Camden County reached last week said they had not expressed interest in joining the county-run force.