TOMS RIVER — The township's new Republican mayor and the chief of police are at odds over a proposal to improve ambulance response time, with the mayor's rivals accusing him of cutting the police force to balance the budget.

A resolution to hire eight additional EMTs, which is intended to reduce ambulance response time, was passed by the township council at the Jan. 18 meeting. The governing body, meanwhile, introduced an ordinance to have the new positions be funded using the budgeted salaries freed up by two retiring captains. The ordinance is up for adoption on Wednesday.

But the plan is opposed by Police Chief Mitch Little and a police union. The mayor's intraparty opponents have also leveled criticism.

"Mayor Rodrick is defunding our Police Department and our community is against it," Councilman David Ciccozzi said on Facebook.

 

 

Mayor: Better response time for EMTs

Mayor Dan Rodrick said that residents have often had to wait up to 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive after 911 is called, which he finds "unacceptable." Despite inheriting a $3.5 million budget deficit, Rodrick said adding more emergency responders to the payroll is a "matter of life and death."

"By not backfilling these desk jobs, the township will have the money it needs to put more boots on the ground. This will enable us to effectively respond to emergency medical calls decreasing response time – and saving lives," Rodrick said in an email to residents.

Rodrick said that some of the department's "top brass" and its management union, NJ PBA Local 107, object to the plan because expected promotions resulting from the retirements will not be granted.

"Their management union (NJ PBA Local 137) is fighting our plan to fix this emergency response crisis. They are purposefully mischaracterizing this as taking cops off the street. Nothing could be further from the truth. We added 7 new cops in my first week in office," Rodrick said in the letter. "We need more boots on the ground, not two more $350,000 a year management positions."

Toms River ambulances
Toms River ambulances (Toms River Township)
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Chief: My job is to disseminate accurate information

Hours after Rodrick's message was released, Police Chief Mitch Little issued a written response opposing the moves. It was emailed Friday night to New Jersey 101.5 and posted on the department's Facebook page. The post, however, was removed Saturday.

Little said he and his team favor the hiring of new EMT personnel but the applicant pool is nearly non-existent. Toms River is competing with other agencies also looking to hire new staff, according to the chief.  He also said that his officers, who are trained in administering first aid and have defibrillators and equipment, are often the first to arrive at an emergency scene.

"I have asked the mayor for an opportunity to discuss his concerns in relation to the potential unintended consequences of his decision to implement these cuts to our command staff. I believe there is a middle ground that is mutually beneficial to all involved, the police department, the governing body, and most of all, the members of the community," Little said in his written statement.

Little, who has been chief for 10 years, said the newly hired officers are seasonal Class 1 SLEO Officers who do not carry weapons and cannot make arrests. They patrol parks, the beach area and the municipal jail.

Toms River facts
Toms River, NJ facts (Canva/U.S. Census)
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Township council meeting expected to draw a crowd

Supporters of the police were planning to attend the Jan. 31 township meeting where the ordinance on funding the police is up for a vote. The meeting was moved online by Council President Craig Coleman out of concern for the large crowd expected to attend.

Two council members are asking Coleman to reconsider his decision.

"Transparency is the cornerstone of good governance. Virtual meeting fall short. We implore Council President Coleman and fellow council members to fight for an in-person meeting for the good of our residents," council members David Ciccozzi and Jim Quinlisk said in a joint message.

On his own Facebook page, Ciccozzi said Rodrick and members of the township council are hiding by moving the meeting online.

  • The Zoom link for the meeting is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89508159869.
  • The meeting ID is 895 0815 9869.
  • Participants must have or obtain the Zoom app in order to use this option.
Former Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill speaks at a hearing in 2023
Former Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill speaks at a hearing in 2023 (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
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Former mayor: Why mess with a successful department?

Rodrick's predecessor, Maurice "Mo" Hill, told New Jersey 101.5 that an efficiency study commissioned by the council and completed in 2021 did not call for organizational changes to the police department. The report concluded the department was run "efficiently and effectively."

"I don't understand what he gains by doing away with the two captains. It's gutting the leadership," he said, adding that scuttling the promotions "will have a deleterious effect on the morale of the police officers."

"Toms River is one of the safest cities in the state of New Jersey for the size. So I don't understand the need to go down this route," Hill said.

Hill said that the EMS staffing shortage requires a regional solution, which is already being developed by Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy and the Board of County Commissioners.

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