Pubdate: Wed, 29 Sep 2010
Source: Edison/Metuchen Sentinel (NJ)
Copyright: 2010 Greater Media Newspapers
Author: Kathy Chang, Staff Writer


Township In Talks With School Officials To Fill Void Left By Police
Program Cuts

Two police programs that cater to thousands of Edison youngsters every
year have become victims of this year's budget tightening.

Township officials said their need to save money and consolidate
services, and to put more police officers on the road, resulted in
their axing both the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program
and the popular Junior Police Academy.

"We honestly believe [these programs] are beneficial for the
students," said Bill Stephens, management specialist for the township.
"We will work on coming up with cost-efficient ways so that we can
continue to work with the youths."

The Edison Police Department had been running the DARE program for
fifth graders in the township's schools since 1991. Approximately
25,000 students have graduated from the program, including close to
1,500 earlier this year from Edison's 11 elementary schools.

Police Sgt. Robert Dudash said many students who go through the
program also become involved with the five-week Junior Police Academy
that the department has held each summer. The academy graduated its
12th class on Aug. 13 at John Adams Middle School. Dudash's father,
Robert Sr., who retired in 2005, was involved with the startup of both
the junior academy and the DARE program.

The younger Dudash, as part of the Community Resource Unit with
Detectives Theodore Hamer and Keith Jackson, has been coordinating the
Junior Police Academy. Kids in sixth through eighth grade learn the
inner workings of the police department and find out about emergency
response through interactive programs designed to be educational and

Police Chief Thomas Bryan said the officers who were in the Community
Resource Unit have been transferred to other sections within the
department. He said the department still has an officer serving as
liaison to community programs.

Councilwoman Melissa Perilstein questioned the administration's
decision to cut the programs.

"I think [the two programs] are really important," she said. She also
criticized some of the financial decisions that the administration has
made this year, including creating the position of business
administrator assistant and appointing a former Trenton fire director
to that post at an annual salary of $110,000.

Mayor Antonia Ricigliano said in April that her administration was
working on restructuring the police department, noting that it was
"top heavy" and did not have enough officers out on the street.

"I would like 140 patrolmen in the force," she said. "Right now that
number is in the 120s."

The administration has noted that more police officers were used for
the community programs than many people realize.

"It has been said that only three officers were dedicated to the [DARE
and Junior PoliceAcademy] programs, but there were four, five, six and
seven officers that would come off the road. . This is all about
money, and we need officers out on the road protecting the residents,"
Stephens said.

Bryan said he hopes the programs' elimination is only

"This is a public safety issue," he said. "We are down 30-some
officers; every municipality is going through the same situation."

Bryan added that his department and the township administration are in
the preliminary stages of planning for another program that would
provide the same types of services.

Perilstein said she felt that communication on the matter could have
been better.

"Most PTAs sent out information about the program, not everyone on the
Board of Education was talked to . This cut made a lot of people
upset," she said.

Perilstein, noting that clothing bins in the township are used to
generate funding for the DARE program, said officials will have to
look at how that money will be used now.

Stephens said no official announcement has been made regarding new
ways for the township to work with schoolchildren, because nothing has
been solidified. He said officials have been in talks with the health
department about new programs, and with Edison Interim Superintendent
of Schools Ronald Bolandi and school Business Administrator Dan
Michaud on ways to replace the DARE program and the Junior Police Academy.

Bolandi said school officials are beginning to work toward
incorporating some of the DARE core curriculum into the schools'
health and physical education classes.

Council President Charles Tomaro said he understood the need to
consolidate and save money, and suggested that the administration
consider reaching out to Dudash Sr. to see if he would be interested
in coming back and working with the kids.  
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