By Daniel Del Valle, John Welsh, George Beck, and Joseph Uliano
NJ Blue Now Magazine: What was your major goal when you first became PBA President and has that goal been accomplished?
Colligan: The major goal was re-establishing relationships with politicians. Tony Wieners at the time, and correctly so, shut the books on politicians after Chapter 78. We were let down by not only Republicans but Democrats also. But, unfortunately, you know there’s a point where you have to reestablish those relationships. So part of that was the Political Action Committee starting with the PAC fund and literally meeting every senator and assembly member over six months and Marc (Kovar) and I hit the road. I came back months later and said it is going to take a year to accomplish this, because it’s a pretty big state.
What is your major goal right now, where you sit currently in your position?
I think what’s been lacking not only in the New Jersey state PBA but almost every national law enforcement group is re-engaging the membership. I think in 2017, not only in the police field but in any organization there just seems to be less involvement and I get the people have big schedules and are dealing with families, but you know my joke is call “CrossFit” when you get in trouble, because if you can’t make it to a PBA meeting, I’ve said it and Marc has said it, everybody is the PBA, it’s not just Marc and I. We can’t vote for you, we can’t get involved locally for you. So there’s no magic bullet. What we are trying to do is education for the locals. We’re doing the Quick Book seminars. We are doing things to help the locals be successful locals. If you don’t have a successful local, you are not going to successfully negotiate a contract or deal with your administration.
What goal has been established by the PBA moving forward with a new governor in office?
Well, we have the club called Chapter 78, they hit us all over the head. My goal with the new governor and the reason we came out so early is being realistic with the 2% cap, not the arbitration cap, but the 2% property tax cap. It’s virtually impossible to reset Chapter 78 and I don’t think any politician really has that appetite, but we can get pieces of that back and that’s really the goal that I set with Phil Murphy and it’s the reason that we came out so early for him.
What can be done to make law enforcement a powerhouse player in New Jersey politics in the years to come?
You nailed the question. It’s New Jersey politics. We started the PAC, $18 per person per year. There was a point just a few months ago, where we ended up with over $800,000 in that PAC account. That PAC account was designed for this election cycle where you have every assembly person every senator and the gubernatorial race; there are only two gubernatorial races in the country this year. So that from its inception put us in play. I’d love to see a Super PAC established. It’s something we’ve been working on now for a little over a year. A Super PAC dedicated to law enforcement.
Is there a goal or a timeframe to establish the Super PAC?
The requirements to run a Super PAC are very stringent and pretty difficult to work around, so we of course want everything done legally. So we are probably within a few weeks. I was hoping to get it set for this election cycle, which is still a possibility, but it’s going to probably be too tight.
In November of 2016, there was a pro-law enforcement push created by the Trump campaign that has really taken off since being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, which was evident at the National Law Enforcement Memorial. We were there in the crowd; you were on the stage, so you saw the rally. Why should a conservative police officer cross the lines and vote for Murphy?
Well, we have a lieutenant governor, who I have said and I will say it to her face, a great woman, a nice woman and past law enforcement, I know she was an F.O.P. member, to me, I understand she was working under Chris Christie and I get that. I understand that may not be the easiest place to work, but if you are going to be a law enforcement officer, you need to stand up for law enforcement and there should have been a period, especially in the beginning when Chapter 78 was being formed. There should have been a period that she said, look the men and women of law enforcement are different, because I’ve said that in the very beginning and I’ve believed that since I put my hand on the Bible in 1992. We are different, and I don’t have to tell any of you in this room why we are different. There had to be a point where she should have stood up and said, stop, don’t hurt our men and women in law enforcement. She didn’t and to come in now in the 11th hour of the 7th and 1/2 year and say hey, I’m standing with law enforcement, I just think is disingenuous.
Again nice woman, but if you look at her website the answer should be evident to anybody in law enforcement. I’m not sure what it takes for the men and women of law enforcement in New Jersey to stand up and say stop. She wants to give us our pension, but she wants us to take the liabilities too. We have a Constitutional Right to our pensions. Why would anybody want to give that up? She talks about consolidation. It’s obvious how she feels about the 2% arbitration cap, which has literally put a belt around our necks. We have a permanent 2% cap on our salaries, we have the recruitment problem that’s evident nationwide and we’re starting to see it in New Jersey. We have additional one and half percent towards our pensions and when does it stop? She can say she’s pro-law enforcement, but her actions haven’t brought that out.
Many officers express concern for Phil Murphy’s pick for lieutenant governor, believing that Sheila Oliver doesn’t have the best interest of law enforcement in her heart. How does the P.B.A. plan to address these concerns?
We met with Phil Murphy the night he announced that and we addressed our concerns prior to that announcement. Quite frankly, it was disappointing. It was one of those things that you look back and say that that’s not where we wanted him to go. We now know from the meeting with him that it’s part of the bigger picture and I said it in my article in New Jersey Cops this month and I hate going back. I feel like it’s arguing with your wife. Your wife always brings up the past but I hate to keep bringing this up, but if we hadn’t voted as a block–law enforcement and teachers for Chris Christie–nobody would know who Sheila Oliver was. So you know, I’m not in love with the pick, but I now know the reasons why and we’re going to move forward. The lieutenant governor as we saw with the governor now, is not a position that really generates much policy and procedure. That was probably in place before she was picked, and as I also said, there is no perfect politician. We are not going to be in love with everything Murphy did or does. We’re not going to be in love with everything Trump does. Trump is going to have a major impact on the Supreme Court and those Supreme Court picks are not going to be helpful to law enforcement, so you have to take the good with the bad. If anybody is looking at these candidates and saying, oh this is the perfect pick, sorry I have some oceanfront property in Ohio to sell you.
Going back, do you believe that if you were president at the time when Christie took over that you would have a different relationship with him?
I would probably have a relationship with him, but being perfectly blunt, this was in the makings and in the works long before he took his hand off the Bible. He knew how to take out the Public Employment Relations Commission and make it the disgrace that it is and the Civil Service Commission. I think that this was a plan that was a well-established plan and I don’t know, as much and as hard as I work and as passionate as I know I am, I’m not sure if there was anybody in this seat that wouldn’t be able to stop that tidal wave what happen when Christie was elected.
You mentioned and just to go back to the super PAC and I just quoted you with the perfect pick, do you think that the intent and the objective to build a Super PAC is to at some point have the perfect pick or close to the perfect pick as we can?
You know a PAC doesn’t develop a candidate, the candidates develop themselves. So, can we look in the future at a candidate and help push them? Yeah, at some point we probably could, but I don’t want to sound like a defeatist because I’m certainly not, but there is no perfect candidate out there. It’s kind of like your chief, you end up with a great chief and as much as you like him or her and as pro-union they are, he or she may be, they have to make a difficult decision at some point. We have a state that is almost in a financial meltdown. There’s no candidate that can come in and say, yeah we’re going to roll back Chapter 78 completely and we’re going to completely fund the pension. There’s going to be a give and take. When our economy improves, which you know is the answer to a lot of our questions, then we may end up with closer to the perfect pick, but I really don’t believe that we will. I said it, is there a perfect politician? I think your readers could answer that. We know they’re not out there, but sure I’d love for Phil Murphy to be right of center on some of those issues, but we will take the good with bad right now. We have two options in 2017, and it’s either Phil Murphy or Lieutenant Governor Guadagno.
What good do you see coming out of New Jersey law enforcement today?
Well, if you look nationally, there’s been some incredibly bad press out of some areas. I’ve always said that we are better trained–that we attract a better candidate a more professional candidate–and I think that is why there’s been no major incident in New Jersey. This goes back to what I said before, as we’re starting to see a recruiting problem and my fear is with this permanent 2% cap and all the other issues surrounding New Jersey Law Enforcement. You know some Senate and Assembly people that just don’t embrace what we do and feel that we should have a 2% cap, then we’re going to get back to not attracting the best and the brightest New Jersey recruits at some point going back to what we had pervasive in the sixties, uneducated and I don’t want to say this is a blanket, because I don’t want to disrespect those that were doing a great job in the sixties, but generally we were a group that didn’t have advanced degrees and didn’t have advanced training. I think our academics are doing a great job with self-defense and less than lethal. My concern and to just get a little off topic, I see now you have the City of Camden is giving awards for not engaging some people and I hope that we’re not getting into a dangerous realm of handing out teddy bears to everybody, but we have a great group of law enforcement officers in New Jersey.
What needs to be improved upon not only in New Jersey but throughout the nation for law enforcement officers?
I think our officers have to realize that no matter whether they are on duty or off duty, in a pursuit, sitting in the car, they’re on video and we unfortunately, have been exposed to some embarrassing situations. It’s not an easy job. It’s a job that that those who aren’t in law enforcement don’t understand and unfortunately, there’s no other career on the planet where people can watch one episode of a police show and suddenly be experts on police policy and procedure. So I’d like to stay out of the press. That doesn’t help our profession. It doesn’t help moving our agenda forward. It’s difficult to see our people stealing money and you know, we just had a murder-suicide, tragically on the corrections side. I think our officers need to know that not only are they in the limelight, but they are in the limelight 24/7.
Where do you see our pension in four years and do our retired members get to see the return of COLA?
I’ve been very public about it and my number one priority is to get COLA back, because I know what it’s doing to guys and gals who retired 30 or 40 years ago. And I’ve said this to our retiree group, it’s not like I hide from the facts. Returning COLA back to the way it was will have a pretty profound and heavy hit on our pensions. I’ve said this in testimony and I’ve said this to our retirees, we need to figure out a responsible way to phase it back in. If we just turn it on, it drops the system significantly.
So where do I see the pensions? I know we’ve developed a responsible plan to take it from the state and unfortunately, the governor didn’t sign it in the 11th hour because I think there was another chief that retired with a $500,000 check, which we don’t see. I find it amazing that with our PFRS plan to take from the state, it’s my pension too. I’ve said it, I’m not a trust fund baby, my wife is a school teacher, I’m a few months from poverty if I lose my job today, like many other cops and firemen, especially after seven years of decreases in our pay. So for those who seem to think that I’m going to make a crazy amount of money out of this, point out where it is. I just want a pension and I don’t want to be dragged down by the other systems that are there. We were always the responsible kid on the playground. When we had the opportunity to drop our side of the pension contributions, like the teachers did, we refused and it wasn’t an easy position from the State PBA President at the time to find out that, hey, we are over 100% funding, let’s reduce our pension contributions. The teachers did and then a short time after that the teachers also lowered their retirement age. So it was the death knell of their system. They were near a hundred percent funding, if they weren’t over a hundred percent funding then. So now you look, we were the responsible kids on the playground and now we know we had that close call of the blending of the systems just two years ago.
If you have the opportunity to address some of your critics what would you say to them?
I wake up in the middle of the night. I wonder what else we could do. I wonder if I’m missing something on some issues, you know we’ve had some losses, Atlantic City to me is devastating and living with that. I went down to address their PBA meeting and it was not an easy meeting. It was “what’s the PBA doing?” I stood before them saying I don’t know what else we could’ve done. Were there missteps with some of the things that we did, possibly! But I don’t lose sleep that it was something else we could have done. I just wonder if there was the magic bullet sometimes. So you have Atlantic City, you know consolidation is still on the plate and it’s something important. You know we are going to have some losses on consolidation too.
Do you see more of that coming, consolidation?
I do! This 2%, again not arbitration cap, but 2% property tax cap, is strangling some towns, some communities and it was passed to force this. It was passed to force consolidation on those towns. So to the critics, I don’t know what else I could do. I’m always open to somebody calling me and giving me an idea they have. Sometimes politically there is a reason why we can’t do something, but there are some issues that I wake up in the middle of the night that I’m fearful that we are missing something. Even with the PFRS that plan and I’ve said it at the meetings, we even went to the F.O.P., we went to the State F.O.P. meeting. It was the first time the PBA ever presented at an F.O.P. meeting. It was historic and I said to them, please tell me if I’m missing something, because I fear that when this legislature goes through and you know, it was endorsed by the two previous presidents, the F.O.P. came on board which was great, it was kind of almost like a relief and a win that okay, other than one public safety union, everybody seems to be on board with it.
You mentioned suicide earlier. What do you say to the officer that is contemplating suicide today?
That’s another frustrating issue. I sit here sometimes and I ask our professionals, what are we missing? What else can we do? Every suicide is a blow because somebody somewhere saw that, and we are a vocation.Nobody really took this job, well some did just because it’s Civil Service, but we have a special bond, a brotherhood, sisterhood. We are in an environment that unfortunately, our suicide rate is higher and I just beg people, not so much the officer that’s contemplating, but the co-workers to keep an eye out and don’t be ashamed to ask. It’s one of those frustrating things, one suicide is devastating.
The stereotypes and the stigmas are still there. The officers are afraid to get help! Is the PBA in communication with the chiefs and the directors, advising them that they have to find a way to tell our guys that they’re okay to go get help and when getting help their law enforcement career doesn’t end there?
I agree with you, but the problem is we still get those chiefs. We have the case of Frank Marchione out of Hightstown, who asked for help and then was subsequently sent to seven psychs, who I guess in their minds was lucky enough to find someone to fail him (said with a smirk).
Yes, that has a ripple effect throughout our community, which is why Dr. Stefanelli is here at no small cost to the PBA. We spend a lot of money to have somebody here two days a week. We put a lot of effort into being able to call “Cop 2 Cop.” If you are concerned about your EAP, then come here, that’s why we’re here. I get it! Believe me! There is still a stigma. I’m not sure if that stigma will ever completely go away and yes one of the first things I did when I became president was develop a relations with Chief’s Association, which it’s like the politician, we’re not always going to agree with the chiefs, but it’s been a great partnership and you know even dealing with that quote, unquote “psychologist” up in North Jersey, who seems to be a henchman for the chiefs. We’ve even exposed that. It’s my goal to have him not evaluating anymore because the danger that he presents to our membership, the amount of people that he had terminated. Call here. We don’t want anybody to think that they’re going to have a stigma, they can come here and they can deal with it privately. This was setup as a triage, but some people are here longer terms because of those fears with their chiefs. Call me! We will find the right service for you depending on what are your issues are. I didn’t coin it, but suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and there is always an answer, things do get better.
What do you feel or what do you think corrections should be striving for in law enforcement?
I really embraced the corrections group when I took over. Corrections has always suffered from the stigma of you know, lesser than law enforcement. I’m supporting the police title bill but not sure how much traction that’s going to get, we’ll see with the new governor. I’ve said it every time I address them, I could never walk into a jail every day. They definitely walk to the worst beat in the nation. At the end of your career, you’re locked up for a third of your life, literally. You are searched, you have no phone access, so the average law enforcement officer sitting in his or her car, I think needs to realize to put yourself in those shoes of the kind of job that really is. I know the working conditions. You are locked up. If the prisoners don’t like the jail cell, then the officers don’t either. As a matter of fact just before you guys got here, there’s a professional corrections group that I want to make sure we are going to keep, that make sure the correction chair and vice chair still want to be part of that. The first mini convention, I had a separate break out and then we had a couple of assembly people come in. I’d like to continue that as long there’s interest. They are the unsung members of law enforcement that deserve a lot more respect that they get not only from sometimes the rank of the police officers but from the general public too.
What do you want to be remembered for? What’s going to be your legacy?
I think that it’s really getting into the political process. You know, I’ve joked about it that sometimes when you’re involved in New Jersey politics you want to step away and take a shower when you are done, because sometimes it’s pretty dirty, but there is no other way to move our agenda forward if it’s not through the legislature. Yeah I might be a nice guy and yeah I can go have a drink with somebody, but at the end of the day they need money to run a campaign and we need to get our message delivered in the Senate and Assembly. We have to develop relationships with the politicians. So I think being heavily engaged in the political process put us on the map. I’d love to see this PFRS legislation put through. So hopefully we can expedite the issues of COLA and Tier 1 and Tier 3 members, so that would probably be my two top priorities.
When law enforcement is over for you where do you see yourself?
I have a dream of standing under a Sabrett hot dog umbrella until 2 pm. Seriously this is an extraordinary labor-intensive job. This job is sometimes seven nights a week, sometimes four nights a week you know it’s difficult to juggle with a family. I’m lucky that my children are a little bit older. You can’t do this with young children, and you would be doing a disservice to your family. I have a great wife, Lynette who’s a school teacher who understands why I’m out driving around the state and flying around the country, because public service to her is important and she didn’t deserve what this governor did to her. She’s a dedicated school teacher. I love this job. I love the people I work with, but we’ll see what happens at the end of my career, whether to continue a heavy work load or I want to literally stand under the Sabrett umbrella.