Prosecutors tell NJ constables: Don’t call yourselves ‘police’ www.privateofficer.com
Essex County NJ Aug 7 2012 Stitched in block yellow letters across the black cap Philip Fluker wears while on duty are the words ‘Police Constable.’
He designed the hat and sells it and other merchandise baring the word ‘police’ to fellow constables in his organization, the New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Constables Inc.
“It gives the criminal the knowledge that this person has power of police and if I mess with this guy I’ve attacked a peace officer,” Fluker said. “But we’re not pretending to be police.”
Two prosecutors don’t see it that way and say they are concerned the word will confuse and possibly endanger the public.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray and Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow have sent letters to Fluker, chief of the New Jersey constables, demanding he and other constables discontinue using the word ‘police’ on badges, shirts, hats and uniforms. Romankow has forwarded the matter to the Attorney General’s office.
“It’s dangerous for them to do that. If they represent themselves as police officers they will be arrested for impersonating a police officer,” Romankow said. “Only police are entitled to that word. It’s something they deserve, something they worked hard for. It’s a symbol of security and safety and should not be threatened by these wannabes.”
The issue has come up before. In 1992, then-Essex County Prosecutor Clifford Minor responded to inquiries about the use of the word police and found constables were entitled to use it.
“Use of the word ‘Police’ on a constable’s patch would not appear to be inherently misleading so long as the individual constable does nothing to cause members of the public to believe he is a full time regular member of an organized police force,” Minor wrote.
Murray wrote an updated letter to Fluker recently, rescinding the permissions Minor had granted.
“We value the service constables provide for the community,” Murray said in an interview. “We simply want to ensure that the public understands when they are interacting with sworn law enforcement personnel versus when they are dealing with a constable.”
In New Jersey, constables are peace officers with limited powers, including the authority to arrest offenders, deliver writs and subpoenas and provide security, among other duties. They are appointed to three-year terms by a council person in the township where they live. Each municipality can have between two and 50 constables. Private attorneys and other interests, never the town or state, pay for their services.
Fluker said the 350-plus constables in New Jersey are aware of their duties under the law. “We have state statues that govern us,” Fluker said. “We wear ‘police’ because we are in the law enforcement family.”
But it’s more of an extended family, says Wayne Fisher, director of the Police Institute at Rutgers University.
Constables go through limited training and must have a permit to carry a weapon, Fisher said. Their power of arrest, he added, is not much different from a citizen’s.
“The bottom line is they do not have the same authority as a police officer and it’s not in the public interest that they refer to themselves as police officers, Fisher said.
Fluker said he does not know of any constable who’s been arrested for wearing the word ‘police’ and until he’s presented with a law explicitly forbidding the word, he’ll continue to wear it.
“Everybody says they want citizens to help, want citizens to be involved, here are record checked, (finger) printed citizens who want to help the community. We back up police officers, we take bad guys, guns and knives off of the street,” he said. “We’re not out there playing police for attention.”