James Behre, the acting chief of police in Bloomfield, N.J., stood before his township council members and lambasted the elected officials for asking to trade favors in return for his job security and otherwise meddling in department affairs. With no hint of irony, the council suspended the chief less than 48 hours later, pending a “fitness of duty” evaluation scheduled next month.
The 27-year veteran of the Bloomfield Police Department said that a councilman encouraged him to favor Hispanic officers for promotions and to fix a parking ticket in order to “solidify” Behre’s position as acting police chief.
Addressing the council, Behre recalled that Councilman Carlos Bernard asked the chief to promote a Hispanic officer to detective, telling him, “This will solidify your position as chief and your problems will go away.”
Bernard is Hispanic.
“Who is Carlos Bernard to tell me that Hispanics are more important than blacks, Asians, female officers, Caucasian officers?” Behre said at one point. “It’s all about fairness and transparency.”
On a separate occasion, Bernard asked the chief to forgive a parking ticket.
“We appreciate the job you’re doing, chief. We’re leaning towards making a police director but now we’re leaning towards making you chief,” Behre recalled the councilman saying during the visit.
“He’s come into my office and used the word ‘we’ to imply that he’s there on behalf of the whole council,” Behre said.
The police chief said that other members of the council also routinely flood his office with calls to request favors and have even gone so far as to hinder Internal Affairs investigations.
“These are all examples of political interference in the day-to-day operations of the police department,” Behre said.
The chief added that the political interference was causing other veteran officers to leave the department and creating a hostile work environment for him. Even so, Behre vowed to fight the council if the corruption continues.
“No one owns the chief’s position. It’s not for sale,” Behre concluded to applause from residents in attendance.
Two days later, Bloomfield’s township administrator placed Behre on leave, citing concerns from the mayor and other township officials over the chief’s health. Before he is allowed to return to duty, Behre will have to take a “fitness of duty” evaluation on March 3.
Paul Cell, president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, said that the town’s actions against Behre are “absolutely disgusting.”
“We are asking this town council to take action… we want the chief to be put back,” he told the town council.