By FRED T. ROSSI
Specially Written for The Leader/Times
SCOTCH PLAINS – Mayor Alexander Smith said this week that the township is prepared to assist the Fanwood Police Department in any way necessary as borough officials assess the state of their police operations in the wake of the departure of Chief Richard Trigo earlier this month.
Mayor Smith told The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times he has spoken to Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr to let her know that “we are willing to help any way we can.” The type of assistance accepted “depends on what they need,” Mayor Smith said. He said Fanwood officials first have to “figure out what they need to do” before deciding on any outside assistance.
Mr. Trigo left his position July 10 in what his attorney said was a planned retirement, but it coincided with the surfacing of audio remarks of a racist and sexist nature allegedly made by Mr. Trigo about former Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park and state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. At the request of the borough council, Acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo then appointed Captain Kevin Grimmer from her office to oversee the borough’s police department operations until a permanent chief is named. The county prosecutor’s office also is investigating the audio recordings.
The Fanwood Police Department’s “leadership is gone,” Mayor Smith said, noting the vacancies in the chief’s office as well as the lack of two lieutenants. At present, the highest ranking officers in the department are three sergeants.
The upheaval in Fanwood has led to some calls for a fresh look at merging the Scotch Plains and Fanwood police departments. In 2011 and 2012, in-depth discussions were held to investigate the feasibility of a merger, but the talks foundered in 2013 over several issues including how a merged department would actually be structured.
When asked about a renewed focus on a merger of the departments, Mayor Smith cautioned “let’s not get the cart before the horse,” adding that he preferred to give Fanwood officials time to sort out the issues within their own police department before considering restarting merger discussions. But Deputy Mayor Josh Losardo told The Times this week it could be “worthwhile” to talk about a police merger as a way to “improve services and reduce taxes.” He expressed his belief that the Scotch Plains Township Council “would be receptive to seeing if [a merger] makes sense.”
Speaking to The Times, Mayor Mahr said she wanted to “assure the public that our police department is in good hands” under the leadership of Capt. Grimmer, noting that he grew up in Fanwood. She said residents “expect a fully functioning police department that protects and serves them. They expect their elected officials to examine ways to reduce the costs of providing that service now more than ever with the continuing financial fallout of Covid-19.”
About a possible merger, Mayor Mahr said Fanwood has “the opportunity to re-examine how we provide this critical service and owe it to our residents to see where we can find savings,” adding that she expects to “have conversations with our neighboring communities on what they can look like as well as what we can do ourselves.”