Dissent On Township Council As Decision To Start FTPD Chief Search Is Made

Township Councilwoman Shanel Robinson was one of two council members not in favor of starting the search for an FTPD chief.

The Township Council officially began the search for a new police chief on Dec. 12, but the decision to do so was not without its drama.

Current Police Chief Lawrence Roberts is retiring on Dec. 31. He announced his intention in June.

The council on Dec. 12 held an executive session to discuss the chief’s position, after which they returned to the dais to vote on a resolution to begin the search process.

Councilwoman Shanel Robinson (D-At Large) and Deputy Mayor Carl R.A.Wright (D-Ward 4) voted against the resolution, which passed 7-2. There was no public discussion.

While the council had to vote to authorize the search process, interviews and final determination on who gets the job lies with Township Manager Robert Vornlocker.

Robinson and Wright said they voted against the resolution mainly because, they said, they did not see the rush to bring on another chief.

“I don’t make knee-jerk decisions, unless it’s life or death, and this is not a life or death decision,” she wrote in an email after the meeting. “As of right now I thought of another question, however I have lost the opportunity to do a deeper dive, to ask, to follow up or follow through.”

“We have an ordinance and a process in place, that’s a good thing,” Robinson wrote. “The decision and oversight of the process is that of the Township Manager, not council. We have a discrimination lawsuit looming. What do we say to the residents? We owe it to them to do our due diligence in such delicate matters, be proactive, not reactive, to inform and educate our constituents of the process.”

“The chief gave his resignation months ago, what’s the urgency or difference if we wait another week or two,” she wrote. “Ethically, that is all I’m at liberty to say without discussing anything said in executive session.”

FTPD Sgt. Dennis Hopson in June filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Roberts, Vornlocker, the township, the FTPD and FTPD Deputy Chief Richard Grammar.

Hopson, a 22-year veteran of the force, claims in the suit that there is a “culture of racism” at the FTPD resulting in minority officers being skipped over for promotions and desirable assignments in favor of their white counterparts.

The township has denied the charges.

Deputy Mayor Carl Wright said the decision to not vote for the start of the search was not based on racial considerations.

Wright stressed that their decision to oppose the resolution was not based on racial considerations.

“We represent an African-American community, the majority of the African-American community,” he said after the meeting. “I just don’t want to jump on the boat and just start paddling along. I believe in the process, there’s no doubt about it. I made a hard choice that may or may not come back to haunt me, but that’s the choice I had to make.”

“I believe that we do not have a full council,” Wright said, referring to the imminent departure of Councilwoman Roz Sherman. “I’m going to rip out a page from our Republican friends; we know there’s going to be a new person coming on on Jan. 1 who may or may not have a different idea.”

“My community says, hey, why don’t we look at this,” Wright said. “So when I go back and talk to my residents again, they’re going to ask me.”

Township ordinance spells out the qualifications for police chief in terms of rank and time served, among other considerations, said Mayor Phil Kramer. He said that as of now, two officers are eligible to become chief: Grammar and Lt. Maurice Guglielmo.

“It would be very unusual to go outside the department,” Kramer said. “Promotions are always within.”

Notice that the department is seeking a chief has been made, he said.

“The process involves a physical, a psychological evaluation that’s more detailed than the standard police psychological exam, a written test of four essay questions, and a record review, he said.

The process is “conducted by the manager, who has the sole say in this,” Kramer said. “It’s as if we were hiring a department head.”


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