Hackensack Police Confronts Internal Resistance and Harrasment in Reform Efforts, Highlights Progress at City Council Meeting

The recent Hackensack City Council meeting addressed a range of issues from police department reforms and community concerns to routine governance matters, including budget allocations and public safety department needs. Police Director Mr. Rotundo’s presentation on the state of the police department stood out, as he discusssed tackling misinformation and resistance to change, and highlighted the progress made despite facing harassment and intimidation. The meeting also saw discussions on the fire department’s challenges, the introduction of new ordinances, and the approval of contracts and budget items.

Police Director Mr. Rotundo delivered a report on the state of the Hackensack Police Department, confronting a culture of fear, intimidation, and favoritism he attributed to the “Old Guard” within the department. His report shed light on the department’s challenges in implementing reforms and the personal repercussions he faced, including finding a wiretap device in his office and receiving anonymous letters. Despite these setbacks, Mr. Rotundo emphasized the department’s advancements, such as increased personnel, the creation of a school threat assessment and crime reduction bureau, and the establishment of an office of community outreach and engagement. He also addressed measures to correct the misuse and abuse of extra duty details and overtime. His presentation was punctuated by an audience outburst, which Mayor John Labrosse swiftly addressed, urging the maintenance of order.

Adding to the discourse on police issues, Council Member Kathleen Canestrino delivered a speech highlighting the necessity of professionalizing the police force, stressing accountability, and leadership to meet the expectations of the governing body and public. The meeting also included a strategic plan for 2024 presented by Captain Attis, focusing on community engagement and enhancing safety and quality of life in Hackensack.

The meeting’s business segment included the adoption of several ordinances, such as amending the city code for maintaining a registry of licensed DWs and procedures for parade applications. An ordinance was introduced to establish a new handicap parking space, slated for final passage on February 6, 2024. Additionally, the council authorized tax refunds, budget appropriation transfers, and adopted the city’s surplus policy and cash management plan, with unanimous council support.

Contracts for various engineering services were awarded to Suburban Engineering, including waste operator compliance and fire headquarters remediation. The council authorized change orders, legal fee reimbursements, actions related to tax liens, and veteran tax exemptions, and approved the payment of bills.

The meeting addressed the removal of item number 30-24 from the agenda, although it had already been included, a point of debate that emerged amid otherwise unanimous support for the agenda items. Council Member Gerard Carroll underscored the importance of civil discourse and imposed a three-minute limit for public comments.

Criticism came from a retired officer on turnover and overtime costs, and Lieutenant Tina Kidana on staffing and the narcotics unit’s elimination. Conversely, Reverend Carolyn Davis and resident Simeon Cumberbatch voiced support for the department and called for the appointment of a permanent police chief. New Jersey State PBA President Pat Hollan commented on morale and the impact of leadership choices on the department.

The fire department’s plight was brought to the council’s attention by Angelo Castronovo, who highlighted understaffing, structural problems in firehouses, and aging equipment. This spurred a discussion on resource prioritization, with resident Paul Nichols advocating for more focus on first responders and mental health services over other infrastructure projects.

The council’s discussion on off-duty job security within the police department was complemented by support for the Police Director’s changes from the Deputy Mayor and another council member. The meeting also celebrated the Shade Tree Committee’s success in securing a TD Bank Green Space Grant, leading to 52 new trees and outdoor spaces in low to moderate-income areas. Mayor Labrosse stressed the ongoing efforts to address flooding issues in the city.

On administrative matters, the council approved new vendors, including Amish Mike’s for shed purchases and Amazon. The need for increased funding for street tree planting and maintenance was highlighted, with a proposed annual budget of $39,900 to match the goal of planting a tree for every one removed. The establishment of the Hack Creative Team was announced, in line with Sustainable New Jersey requirements.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

John Labrosse
City Council Officials:
Kathleen Canestrino, Leonardo Battaglia, Stephanie Von Rudenborg, Gerard Carroll

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