From those PBA members who plunged wearing kilts and war paint to those who plunged dressed as superheroes to those who plunged wearing barely anything, they accentuated the reason thousands of them once again stepped up for the Polar Bear Plunge on Feb. 20 in Seaside Heights: Pride.
Stories by Mitchell Krugel and Joshua Sigmund
Photos by John Hulse and Ed Carattini Jr.
A political action-packed Election Day actually accelerated the night before when NJ State PBA President Pat Colligan wondered if the 70 devices reserved for the phone bank at The Forge in Edison would be enough. So around 7 p.m., he called Executive Vice-President, and Election Day Commander, Marc Kovar to see about getting more.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” Kovar told Colligan. By 10 p.m. Kovar had another 40 units.
This was but one piece of overpowering evidence that the PBA answered its call to political action on Election Day 2015 loud and clear and full of impact and influence. From north to south and everywhere in between, the PBA got out the vote and experienced overwhelming success, not the least of which were victories by its endorsed candidates in the tightly-contested 1st, 2nd and 38th Legislative Districts.
“We can all hold our heads a little bit higher,” an exhausted but exhilarated Kovar praised at the end of the 15-hour day. “Last year, half of the legislators didn’t even know who we were. Now, everybody knows who we are.”
Indeed, the indicators that the PBA PAC Attack is in full force abounded on Election Day.
In Egg Harbor Township, the Atlantic County Conference mustered an all-day phone bank to get out the vote that helped 2nd District incumbent and PBA candidate Chris Brown get reelected. At the State PBA Office, Retired Local 600 members packed the conference room to make calls on behalf of Vince Mazzeo and help him retain his 2nd District seat.
At The Forge in Woodbridge, where the PBA set up its central phone bank to support efforts in key districts, all 110 phones were deployed by 10:30 a.m. More than 250 members came from across the state to lend a hand. Some members brought their kids. Woodbridge Local 38 had 92 of its members show up throughout the day. Local 38 State Delegate Bruce Chester and Mercer County Sheriff’s Local 187 State Delegate Pasquale Papero came even though they had surgery the day before. And East Orange Local 16 State Delegate Elaine Settle came down on crutches.
As Democratic Party volunteer and Phone Bank consultant Francisco Maldonado pointed out, “If we end up getting the results we want, it will be in large part due to the men and women in blue.”
In Paramus, the Bergen County Political Action Committee brought more than 150 members to an Election Day rally that hit the streets to get out the vote. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto was one of several elected officials who came to the rally and addresses the members with his vote of confidence.
“We put a big footprint on the process today,” President Colligan observed. “When you have Prieto and other candidates showing up at an event, that’s being on the map.”
Colligan assessed that more than 30 Locals were represented in all of the political action activities. As the day proceeded, Kovar revealed that the Bergen County rally was the lead story at 6 p.m. on the website, PolitickerNJ.com. Just before 11 p.m., Colligan sent out a text that PBA-endorsed candidates swept all their races.
“This was a groundbreaking event, history in the making,” Kovar proclaimed. “It’s a whole new era, and if we keep this up, we can become one of the most powerful groups in the state.”
PERC restricts negotiations of health care contributions
Once again, PERC has continued its assault on the scope of negotiations in the public sector in a recent decision involving the timing of negotiations over Chapter 78 contributions. In a decision involving the Clementon Board of Education, PERC recently held that parties cannot negotiate reductions in health insurance contributions, even if the four-year progression of increased payments is completed under Chapter 78, if the parties are in mid-contract at the time the four year progression is completed. PERC’s decision imposes the narrowest possible interpretation of the right to negotiate changes in health insurance contributions under Chapter 78. In doing so, PERC has continued to restrict and limit negotiations over issues which used to be negotiable.
The facts in the Clementon Board of Education case were as follows. The board and a local teacher’s association were parties to an agreement which was effective from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2014. The fourth year of Chapter 78 contributions began on July 1, 2014, which would be the first year of any successor agreement that the parties were negotiating. The contract which expired on June 30, 2014 included a provision setting employee health insurance contributions based upon 1.5 percent of base salary, which was the statutory contribution level before Chapter 78 was enacted. The contract language was not changed after Chapter 78 became effective in 2011, even though the ratcheted increases in contributions still occurred because of the Chapter 78 requirements.
The union argued that the contribution levels should automatically drop back to 1.5 percent of base salary once the fourth year of contributions was completed on June 30. PERC disagreed and held that the prior contract’s provision for contributions at 1.5 percent of base salary would not automatically be reinstated once the fourth year of Chapter 78 contributions was completed. Instead, PERC concluded that employee contributions would continue at the percentage in effect at the completion of the fourth year, unless, and until, the parties negotiated a lower contribution rate.
However, PERC went even further. It concluded that the employees would also be required to continue to pay the maximum Chapter 78 percentage until the expiration of the contract if the parties negotiated a multi-year contract which extended beyond June 30, when the fourth year of contributions was completed. In other words, the parties could not negotiate a lower contribution rate while the contract was in effect. PERC held that only if the parties agreed to a one-year contract, which would then expire on June 30, could the parties then negotiate a different contribution level, because only then would the fourth year of contributions have been completed.
PERC’s decision continues a disturbing trend in which the agency has restricted the scope of negotiations in significant areas, and taken the most anti-employee interpretations possible. In doing so, PERC has made it more difficult for the parties to bargain over issues which have typically been considered negotiable issues in the past. While this decision involved a local board of education and teachers, PERC will undoubtedly apply the same principles to other public employees, including law enforcement officers.
We suggest that local PBAs that are reaching the conclusion of the four-year progression of contributions under Chapter 78 consult with their attorneys about the best way to address negotiations of lower contribution rates, particularly if contracts are also expiring. There are strategies which may be available to offset the impact of this decision. There also are different ways to lower contribution rates to reduce the impact on a public employer. But clearly, PERC has made it much harder to negotiate lower rates.
Election Day is coming…Who’s with me?
Election Day on Nov. 3 needs to be a State PBA swarm: members buzzing around the Forge in Edison where we are setting up our phone banks; members out in the legislative districts urging voters to support the candidates that have shown they support us; members going to the polls all across the state to vote. All our members. And their family members.
I’m promising big and hoping our membership backs me up by making the elected officials feel our presence. This is the day we have been waiting for; to follow up on the show of strength we made during the Primary Election in June so state, county and local politicians know that the police is a force.
Now, we can’t be overconfident just because there are only a couple legislative districts that will closely-contested. This is what’s at stake on what we need to make a day to remember for the State PBA:
I will be at the Forge beginning at 10 a.m. to help organize the phone banks. I think we can get more than 200 people in there from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. We will be led by our Retired Local 600 members who know that one more phone call to one more voter can make the difference in preserving, and getting back, the benefits that they worked so hard to get and ensure that we will all have them for years to come.
I have great expectations for the phone bank, and not just because of what happened in June. I talked to a lot of members at the PBA Convention last month in Las Vegas who wanted to know about working the phone banks. Come out for two hours. Come out for five hours. Whatever you can do will help. I’ve talked to staff members for some assembly representatives wanting to know if we will be working the phones. That should give us a hint at the impact we can make.
If you can’t make it to Woodbridge, make a difference in your own backyard. The first couple hours of the day will be very important to get members out in the districts reminding voters which candidates are the ones who support those who protect them in their communities. And we need to keep up the effort throughout the day.
We know we will have a lot of bodies in the 1st and 2nd Legislative Districts where the races will be close. And we already have 150 bodies committed to working on the ground in the 38th District in Bergen County. Local 600 volunteers will also be out in force.
If you don’t know which candidate we are backing, call the State PBA office and ask for Rob Nixon or myself. It’s not about voting Democrat or Republican. We need to be supporting the candidates who will support us once this governor is gone.
nd it’s not just about the State Legislative races. We can make a huge difference at the local government level. In Bergen County, our members made a big impact in helping Jim Tedesco get elected as County Executive. There’s a whole bunch of Freeholders that need to know we’re out there. And you don’t want to look back in a couple years and kick yourselves for letting a mayor get elected who made it hard for your Local to get a good contract. You can get together as a union and go after a mayor or a Freeholder.
I can tell you our efforts are working. We’ve gone to a lot of events with legislators the past year. A year ago, we would walk into the room and they didn’t always know who we were. We’ve built relationships. They know us; not just State PBA President Pat Colligan and myself. They are getting to know our members – the executive board, the county conference chairs and others. We’ve taken some baby steps.
Now, we need to take some big steps. We need to do better than the recent PFRS Trustee Election when just a third of our members voted. If you need any motivation, think about Chapter 78. We need to learn our lesson and this is our chance to hold legislators accountable. It’s one day of the year. Get off your butt and vote.
Survivors and PBA members walk to raise suicide awareness at the 11th Annual Out of the Darkness Walk.
As Hurricane Joaquin threatened to inundate much of New Jersey with rainfall or worse during the first week of October, many wondered whether the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention would cancel its 11th Annual Out of Darkness Walk.
Yet on Oct. 4, the storm rolled out to sea letting the skies open up with sunshine to light up a day many predicted would be filled with “darkness” – not just meteorological, but emotional as well.
Unwaveringly, hundreds gathered at Buccleuch Park in New Brunswick to walk for family members and friends lost to suicide; not to mourn, but to raise awareness through a celebration of life and light.
And just like that, the weight of such devastating loss – like the threat of the storm – started to recede, even just for the day.
By the end of the Walk, new friends – united by shared tragedy – joined the conversation that is working to prevent further suicides in law enforcement, and began the process of coping through the realization that they didn’t walk alone.
A Walk to Remember
Past the finish line, with three 1.2-mile laps behind them, Rachel Zubrzycki and Renee Lyons finally found each other and shared a long embrace.
Retired Middlesex County Corrections Local 152 member Lyons walked for her husband, Larry, a fellow Middlesex County Corrections Officer lost to suicide on April 29, 2014. Zubrzycki walked for her husband, Ed, who passed on May 7 after serving the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office Local 320 for 19 years. It was Lyons’ second walk and Zubrzycki’s first.
“It’s still hard to deal with this everyday,” confessed Lyons. “I never thought after being married for 30 years my husband would have committed suicide. It’s good to see support from family and friends (at the Walk) and you meet new people every year. It’s a sad occasion but you’re uplifting somebody new who’s going through what I went through last year.”
For survivors, meeting new people is a double-edged sword. The rise in attendance can be contributed to organizations like the NJ State PBA and Cop 2 Cop that continuously work to elevate suicide awareness, but it also serves as evidence that law enforcement officers are taking their own lives.
In the past year, 13 New Jersey law enforcement officers have died by suicide; proof that the law enforcement community isn’t an exception to this kind of tragedy.
Zubrzycki attended the event with family, friends and members of Local 320, but spent most of her day walking with Nicole McClintock, the widow of T.J. McClintock who was a member of Cherry Hill Local 176 for eight years before passing on July 8, 2009.
“Coming here and talking to Nicole, it doesn’t feel like people have their guard up,” reflected Zubrzycki. “You can talk openly and freely. Other people don’t know how to react but here everyone gets it. And it’s a very real conversation.”
McClintock expressed the same sentiments:
“I remember the first time (walking) being really anxious because it’s a sad subject. It’s more uplifting because you get to meet people who have been through the same thing who are trying to make a difference and bring something positive out of it. Normally I lean on Cop 2 Cop and it was kind of a role reversal meeting Rachel. I’m glad I got to be in that supportive role for her.”
Walking the beat
Lyons, Zubrzycki and McClintock walked and coped with one another and their families on a personal level, but right behind them was the greater law enforcement family showing its support.
Ewing Township Local 111 State Delegate and chairman of the PBA’s Peer Liaison Committee Michael Pellegrino expressed this sentiment during his opening remarks.
“I want to give all of my support to you guys and Cop 2 Cop for everything they do,” he offered. “I look forward to walking right next to each and everyone of you.”
The Middlesex County Corrections Local 152 Honor Guard led the attendees that sported T-shirts in remembrance and color-coordinated beads that represented the type of loss each individual suffered.
“Everyone thinks you have to keep quiet about suicide but when you come to an event like this, you can see it’s more than just you that has personal experiences with suicide,” enlightened Pacucci. “The event gets bigger every year and it’s great because the awareness gets out and more and more people get involved.”
As law enforcement officers continue to attend the annual outing they send the message to their Local members that this is a cause they need to support.
“Until you’re entrenched in this you don’t know what an epidemic this is,” challenged Pellegrino.
Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the fourth-leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 15 and 64 years, and the movement to combat this national crisis is growing.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is leading the effort through these lifesaving walks; in the past 10 years, the number of Walks has grown from 24 to 350 and the number of participants across the country is expected to surpass 200,000 in 2015.
Cop 2 Cop, spearheading the effort in New Jersey, has conducted more than 65,000 calls and averted crises for 215 cops in its 15 years of existence, providing 19 rescues this year alone.
Starting the conversation is what the Out of the Darkness Walk and Cop 2 Cop aim to accomplish. Individuals end their life for a vast amount of reasons but one commonality is that they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – talk about their problems. Or perhaps they didn’t know where to turn.
“The biggest thing we’ve seen so far since starting (the program) is that more and more officers are aware of our existence,” explained retired Newark officer and licensed social worker for Cop 2 Cop Joe Orgo. “I think (law enforcement officers) need to remember there’s help out there. There are people that care about them and they shouldn’t turn a blind eye to it.”
By Mitchell Krugel
Washington Township Officer Heather Castronova had an idea to form a team of cops to join the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. So she made a phone call to her friend, Old Tappan Officer Kathryn Weaver, and they called their Pascack Valley Local 206 President Bridget Jennings, a Woodcliff Lake cop. Local 206 donated some seed money. Another call led to another, and within a few weeks they had more than 30 active and retired female officers from counties throughout northern New Jersey forming the “Ladies in Blue Fighting in Pink” that united for the 2011 Walk.
The next year, the “Ladies” put up a Facebook page, created a website and went viral. And in the past four years, the group has become a walking, talking, growing, motivating, mobile support system for those in the fight and a titanic force to raise awareness for breast cancer. Adorned with their beguiling T-shirts and unyielding perseverance, the Ladies in Blue Fighting in Pink have created an esteemed presence in the fight against cancer.
“Never have I met a group of women so selfless in their careers, so selfless in their relentless pursuit to change the world,” interjects Katie Chieco, a community manager for the American Cancer Society who was working at the Washington Township PD where she suggested to Castronova that making the Walk could be a way to honor her mother who had cancer.
“You see in the amount of people that show up and in the amount of dollars they raise that they are fearless leaders,” Chieco continues. “They show their pride on their shirts, their hats and their uniforms. They are fearless in their jobs and their mindset.”
Let’s face it guys: You all know that when a group of females comes together, they can accomplish just about anything. And when a group of female cops comes together, well, they believe they can change the world. Maybe it’s how strong the propensity to help people or the intensity to run into the fray when others run away that compels the Ladies in Blue Fighting in Pink to believe and achieve.
Inherent in this group of women, you see, is a sisterhood spawned from the brotherhood of law enforcement. And if actions do speak louder than words, these female officers are intent on taking aim and targeting cancer and proving that we can patrol for a cure, lock up cancer and they can teach us all that cancer is a word, not a sentence.
“Right underneath the thin blue line, we have the thin pink line that bonds us,” asserts Detective Rachel Morgan, Paramus Local 186 member and perhaps the most renowned of all the Ladies in Blue as the 2011 NAPO Top Cops honoree. “Females have that internal voice that tells them to latch on to other girls in the same profession because we go through things that the guys can’t understand like being pregnant and trying to fit into a uniform or fitting into a vest after having a mastectomy. We might be a small group, but great things come in small packages.”
Our Fair Ladies
The fundamental message, of course, from the Ladies is all about breast cancer awareness. Considering that October is breast cancer awareness, let’s start with some awareness: Chieco submits that one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer, but through events like the Walk that attracts some 12,000 participants and generates more than $600,000 in donations, funds are raised to help the American Cancer Society save 490 lives per day.
So October naturally sweeps up people like cops who have the DNA to help whoever and wherever, and it especially sweeps up female cops. Jennings, who served as the nine-town Local 206 president for two years and is still a member of the executive board, saw her department experience the awareness by starting to wear pink hats throughout the month.
But with awareness comes a feeling. There are no words to describe it, save for the welling up around the eyes and the heaviness near the heart. With one in eight diagnosed, breast cancer touches everybody, and this feeling pervades the Ladies in Blue Fighting in Pink.
“I’ve never been in one place with so many female police officers in my entire life,” Castronova recalls of the first October with the Ladies. “I was so touched that everybody came together from all these different departments for one cause. And everybody had their own story.”
That first year, six officers walking were breast cancer survivors. One was Local 206 member Valeri Guglielmotti, a River Vale officer. In July 2009, Guglielmotti just had a miscarriage when she told her doctor of pain she felt afterward in her left breast.
As a precaution, she was sent for a mammogram which revealed Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) at Stage 0, luckily the least invasive type of breast cancer. Doctors suggested a lumpectomy to remove the cancer, but the cop mentality took over and Guglielmotti opted for a double mastectomy.
“Part of being a cop is that you see so many things that could happen, so you are trained to get in there and prevent anything you can,” she explained. “If I had one done the partial or the single mast, I would have worried every time they did a mammogram. It felt better to remove everything and not have to worry they might have missed something.”
The other Ladies insist “Sister Val” has brought something unique to their charge, and that has to be the honor of walking as survivor. And every step seems to reinforce one of the reasons they are walking, supporting and raising awareness.
“When it first happens, it overtakes your whole life – that big ‘C’ word,” Guglielmotti confides. “But then the doctor tells you everything will be OK, to go on and live your life, and you think, ‘I’m blessed.’ Now, I walk to remind everybody to get checked regularly and to let them know that if you’re like me and catch it early, you have a much better chance for a cure.”
Such positive thinking exudes from these Ladies. Perhaps that is the tie that bonds this sisterhood. Chieco tells of how Castronova is always calling her when she meets a resident or neighbor in the fight to, “see if I have a blanket or something I can send them so they know they are not alone. These ladies embody that sentiment.”
Nobody knows that sentiment more than Weaver. The group’s leader got involved following a miscarriage, and she initiates the effort each year to organize for the Walk.
In the strangest twist of fate, Weaver was diagnosed with cervical cancer in March 2014. She was Stage 1, and says she was fortunate that the cancer was cleaned out with a hysterectomy a month or so later. But when she was diagnosed and had surgery, the sisterhood responded like cops do, bringing meals to her family, sending flowers and calling every day.
“We started out as a team of law enforcement officers, but I have found friends I would never have connected with,” Weaver confirms. “We’re helping people who need the help because everybody is affected by cancer in some way, shape or form.”
Morgan is one of those affected. Her mother had breast cancer – twice – but is now cancer free. And because she knows that anguish, because all the ladies know that feeling, they believe they can use their stature as cops to make a profound difference.
“We want to show all female officers that, yes, we’re all here to support you,” Morgan expounds. “But we’re also here to support the men whose daughters, wives, grandmothers or sisters might be going through it. We’re not just cops trying to alert cops. We’re cops trying to alert everyone.”
Like so much of law enforcement’s memorable humanitarian efforts, the Ladies in Blue Fighting in Pink rallied around a T-shirt. Along with their hearts, these Ladies certainly wear their intentions on their sleeves. And some attitude; positive, of course.
When conceiving the idea to form the team, Weaver’s first action was to design the logo that features a heart with blue lines. In 2011, they put the logo on a pink long-sleeve shirt and listed the departments and towns on the back of all officers participating. Since then, the shirts have become part of the identity, featuring memorable slogans that make a statement, such as:
- In 2012, “Locking Up Cancer” with artwork of handcuffs.
- In 2013, “Targeting Cancer” with a picture of a target.
- In 2014, “Cancer is a Word. Not a Sentence” with a picture of a woman behind bars.
- For 2015, “Patrolling for a Cure” with a picture of a police cruiser.
“Every year, I go crazy trying to think of slogans,” Weaver relates. “I literally drive around on midnights, trying to come up with ideas. This year, we have added a male version with a pink blade and the blue lines so we can open it up to the men.”
Opening up to add Men in Blue Fighting in Pink is important for the ladies because they know what is ultra-important to winning this fight.
“We’re such a small part of the population so we had to open it up to raise as much money as possible,” Castronova reasons.
Inviting the men, and the children – Jennings, for example, walks with her two daughters; Guglielmotti has walked with her son, Aiden – also is an expression that the group is as strong as the sum of the parts.
You might notice that their photo of the cover of this issue has the Ladies showing their thin pink line from the back. And the photo you see on page 30 intentionally hides their faces. The “uniforms” they are wearing in these photos are meant to accentuate the shirts and hats and ribbons, not the people. They wanted the photo taken at Ross Dock in Palisades Interstate Park with the George Washington Bridge in the background because every October the bridge is light up pink.
Unfortunately, the threat of Hurricane Joaquin prevented the pink lightbulbs from being installed. But the point they make that it’s about the blue and the pink and the ladies, not any one lady.
“It’s about the whole picture, not Heather form Washington Township or Rachel from Paramus,” emphasizes Castronova. “If we can use our influence as police officers to reach out to as many people as we know, that’s what we set out to do.”
So the police presence for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk at New Overpeck Park in Ridgefield Park is more than just blocking off the roads. The presence includes Weaver, Castronova, Guglielmotti, Morgan, Jennings – and her daughters Meghan and Courtney – Niamh McGuinness of Bergen County Police Local 49, Ana Bedoya of Englewood Local 216, Christina Rae of Eastern Bergen County Local 45 and probably a whole lot more.
They bring their when-one-goes-through-it-we-all-go-through-it determination to the fight. Chieco defines their walking the extra mile by saying, “Any one of these women would give you the shirt off their back.”
Before we forget, the Ladies have a request: All women need to make sure the get screened and tested regularly. Don’t wait until you’re 40. Catching it early can make all the difference. Remember, one in eight are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Otherwise, there are these closing thoughts:
“It’s about a group fighting for a cure,” says Morgan.
And Castronova adds: “At the end of the day, if it helps one person, we did something special.”
Thank you, Ladies.
In a recent and unanimous decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court reaffirmed that law enforcement officers are entitled to qualified immunity from claims of civil rights violations arising under federal and state law. In Morillo v. Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, et al., issued on July 13, the Supreme Court dismissed allegations against sheriff’s officers that they violated plaintiff’s civil rights under Section 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act. In doing so, the Supreme Court reversed an Appellate Division decision which did not extend the qualified immunity defense to the officers.
The facts are as follows: Two sheriff’s officers went to execute a child support warrant on plaintiff. When they arrived at the address on the warrant, the officers discovered plaintiff sitting in the passenger seat of an idling car parked near the driveway and smoking what appeared to be marijuana. They later learned that the address was the home of plaintiff’s mother. When one of the officers asked plaintiff if he had any more drugs, the plaintiff told him that he had a loaded weapon tucked in his waistband. The officers seized the weapon and arrested plaintiff on the child support warrant. While riding to headquarters, plaintiff told the officers that the gun was registered to him, and that he was carrying the gun because he feared retaliation from gangs. The officers did not ask plaintiff for paperwork supporting the gun registration. At headquarters, the officers told their supervisor that plaintiff claimed to have such paperwork. The supervisor called the prosecutor’s office to seek advice on whether plaintiff should be charged with a weapons offense. The assistant prosecutor instructed the supervisor to charge him with a second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun offense. The weapons charge was later dropped after the New Jersey State Police confirmed that plaintiff’s handgun was properly registered.
Plaintiff filed a complaint against the officers alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act. He alleged that the officers violated his constitutional rights by wrongfully charging him with an unlawful possession of a weapon. In motions before the court, the officers asserted the defense of qualified immunity and sought dismissal of the lawsuit. A qualified immunity defense provides that the lawsuit should be dismissed without trial or discovery because the officers acted in good faith and did not have a reason to believe their conduct may be violative of a plaintiff’s rights. The trial court denied the officers’ motion, concluding that they had no basis to charge plaintiff with unlawful possession because the gun he carried was lawfully registered to him and he was at his residence when he was found carrying the weapon. The decision was appealed to the Appellate Division which affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
The Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division decision in a very strong opinion affirming the officers’ entitlement to the qualified immunity defense under the circumstances of this case. The court emphasized that the qualified immunity defense shields officials performing discretionary functions from liability for civil damages where their conduct does not violate “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. This defense allows officers “some breathing room to make reasonable, but mistaken, judgments by protecting all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” The court further noted that the qualified immunity doctrine is applied in New Jersey to civil rights claims brought against law enforcement officers who arrest or charge an individual based upon probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred.
In applying this standard to the facts and circumstances in the case, the court had no trouble in concluding that the officers were entitled to assert the qualified immunity defense. The court concluded that the officers acted with restraint and prudence in the face of a confusing situation. They were confronted with an individual smoking marijuana who was carrying a loaded weapon concealed in his waistband, sitting in an idling car outside the home listed on the warrant. Moreover, the court had no difficulty in concluding that a reasonable officer would have believed that probable cause for arrest existed under these circumstances. Accordingly, the court applied the doctrine of qualified immunity and dismissed the charges against the officers.
The court’s unanimous decision leaves no doubt that civil lawsuits against law enforcement officers should be dismissed promptly and before lengthy discovery occurs, based upon the doctrine of qualified immunity in appropriate circumstances. The court emphasized that officers “should not have to fear facing a ruinous civil lawsuit and substantial financial loss when acting reasonably in difficult circumstances and uncertain legal terrain.” It is a doctrine, according to the court, which protects all officers but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law. While the New Jersey Supreme Court has recently issued some unfortunate decisions on issues of great significance to the NJ State PBA and its members, this unanimous decision sends a very strong signal that, at least in this area, the courts are on the side of law enforcement and should not dismiss the qualified immunity defense lightly. It will benefit law enforcement officers to not have to take the time, expense and uncertainty of defending against civil claims simply for doing their jobs competently and professionally.
In July, the State Health Plan Design Committee (PDC) adopted resolutions establishing a new primary care initiative, a new limited network option, changes concerning Hepatitis C medications, compound drugs, chiropractic and acupuncture out of network payments, ER copays and a Rutgers University wellness pilot.
It was the first time that state has engaged in serious negotiation with public sector unions concerning the design, implementation and monitoring of State Health Benefit Plan programs. The PDC adopted a detailed resolution establishing a new primary care initiative which was explained in the July issue of NJ COPS. This proposal was a union initiative that was not proposed or originally supported by either management or Horizon.
While the NJ State PBA, FMBA and STFA did not vote to approve the Direct Primary Care model, it was not for the reason that we do not support the concept. There were some concerns about allowing the program to have sufficient completion to help keep premiums lower.
Our philosophy on the committee has always been to drive down premiums as our members are carrying a much higher burden than other public sector unions. Here is information about the specific elements of this proposal:
Pilot Project on voluntary use of Direct Primary Care Medical Homes
Union members in any non-HMO plan can join this new pilot program at any time during the year. It features no copays for members and the promise of 24-7 access to a physician.
The patient load for doctors will be reduced from the typical level of 2,500 patients per doctor to less than a 1,000 per doctor, allowing for much more regular and intensive interaction between patient and doctor, especially for those with chronic conditions.
We anticipate that these intensive primary care efforts will produce very significant savings from reduced need for specialists and fewer ER and hospital admissions and generally keeping member healthy.
The pilot will operate for three years with a goal of 60,000 members among south, central and northern pilots. The quality and cost savings of the pilot will be evaluated by an independent group with the option to expand the effort if it is successful.
Participation by members in the pilot is entirely voluntary and the member retains the ability to visit any other specialist or facility while participating in the pilot.
A launch date of April 1, 2016 is planned. It will take some time to secure providers and ramp up the pilot to capacity.
New Horizon Tiered (limited) network plan
This new plan is another option available to members who are seeking a lower premium plan. It should have premiums that are 20-25-percent less than direct plans and will replace Horizon’s HMO products. Horizon will be submitting a detailed description of the plan for the September issue of NJ COPS.
This Narrow (a.k.a. Tiered or Limited) Network plan will have two tiers of coverage: a Tier 1 network for full coverage and a Tier 2 network that includes all current NJ Direct providers, but with significantly higher copays, co-insurance (20 percent by member) , deductibles ($1,500) and maximum out of pocket ($4,500) than Tier 1.
This plan will not have out-of-network coverage, and is a much better alternative to a high deductible plan, however, participants must be careful to be sure that their physician is in the network.
Quality and network adequacy standards will be established and enforced. Tier 1 will include 12 hospital systems with more than 30 locations; all Tier 1 facilities will be located in New Jersey.
This plan will not be for everyone, but will feature reduced member premiums without cost shifting if you’re careful and use Tier 1 providers. This plan option will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
Hepatitis C Drugs
Effective Oct. 1, we have agreed to use a Step Therapy approach for the newest, very effective and very expensive Hepatitis C drugs. The drug for which Express Scripts negotiated significant cost reductions, Viekira Pak, will be the first choice for treatment. If it doesn’t work, has side effects that are not tolerated or there is a medical reason to use another drug, members can go on to another one of the new medications.
Members in a course of treatment with one of the other drugs prior to implementation of the new Step Therapy program will continue with that course of treatment.
Since a course of treatment costs approximately $80,000 to $90,000, and Express Scripts appears to be able to reduce costs by nearly a third with this program, this was a smart move.
Limiting Compound Drugs
Compound drug costs have exploded, rising more than 1,000 percent the past three years primarily from boiler-room-type huckstering for creams that are supposed to stop pain. Very few of these compound drug treatments have been tested for effectiveness or safety. We significantly restricted the use of these topical compound drugs. Compound drugs will still be available for those who cannot take an FDA approved drug by the normal means of delivery, are allergic to an ingredient or whose medical conditions prohibits the use of the prescribed drug and requires a compound drug. The new rules will be implemented some time in fall 2015.
Emergency Room Copays
Emergency Room copays will go up $25 effect Jan. 1, 2016 for all plans currently with less than a $100 copay, however, the increased copay is waived for all patients under the age of 19, for any patient referred to the ER by a physician and for any patient admitted to the hospital within 24 hours.
Excessive emergency room usage was the reason for the copay increase. If ER usage does not fall in 2016, an additional copay increase of $25 for 2017 will be triggered for plans with copays of less than $100.
Chiropractic and Acupuncture out-of-network payments
In-network reimbursement for these two services will be increased in order to get more in-network providers. Out of network reimbursement for these providers will be limited to 75 percent of the in-network reimbursement effective Jan. 1, 2016.
Horizon and Aetna will report back to the PDC concerning the success or lack of success in recruiting additional in-network providers.
Rutgers Wellness Pilot
A three-year pilot of this incentive-based wellness program will be implemented by Jan. 1, 2016. The pilot will use Patient Centered Medical Homes and include increased monetary incentives for those with chronic conditions who participate in wellness and disease management efforts.
We truly hope that the changes in the State Health Benefit plan will affect premiums going forward.
2016 rate increases
Overall, 2016 rates for the state plan will go up 5.9 percent, including 4.5 percent for active employees. This compares to a 7.8 percent increase in 2015. The increase for local overall rates increase is 5.8 percent for 2016 compared to 7.4 percent in 2015, with a 6-percent increase for actives in 2016.
Continuing the multi-year effort to “adjust” rates to reflect actual payments, the Commission voted for rates that will increase rates approximately 2.1 percent for employee-only and employee-spouse in the state plan and 3.6 percent in the local plan compared to 5.9 percent for family and 8.2 percent for employee-child in the state plan and 7.4 percent for family and 9.7-percent for employee-child in the local plan.
I stated that as a matter of public policy we should not be increasing the burden on families, especially single-parent families and voted against this. Unfortunately, it appears that they are planning another increase next year.
Aon stated that in 2016 there will be $108 million state and $54 million local savings from the reforms implemented by the PDC on July 6. Approximately 85 percent of savings is from the Compound Drug change.
I would like to thank our brother and sister public sector union members for their hard work and dedication in developing the innovations that will provide our members with better health care and lower premiums.
Take a sneak peek into NJ COPS Magazine’s July 2015 cover story and look at some of the headlines NJ State PBA President Pat Colligan and Executive Vice-President Marc Kovar made during their first year of leadership. For their full reactions to making headlines, turn to NJ COPS Magazine’s July 2015 issue.
Legislators praise PBA support on Election Day
The first initiative President Colligan announced targeted building, or rebuilding, relationships with every senator and assembly rep in the state legislature. At the time he and Kovar didn’t know where this effort would lead exactly, but a big payoff came with the impact members made on June 2 by staging a big effort to support PBA-centric candidates who needed help to win their primary elections.
PBA members come to Trenton for a day they will never forget
Another brainstorm that came up 20 minutes or so after taking office called for PBA Day at the state legislature on Oct. 16. Colligan asked Locals to send groups to attend committee meetings and a general assembly meeting after lunch. The idea was for legislators to see women and men clad in their PBA shirts walking the halls and letting them know the organization was going to be a presence.
Rallying to make a stand against the governor in LBI
The governor announced he was having a “Town Hall” meeting on the hallowed ground in Long Beach Island where PBA members combined with FMBA and NJEA members to build one of the playgrounds as part of the Where Angels Play movement on July 22. He arrived to find an alliance of law enforcement officers, firefighters and teachers gathered for a rally to show the strength of public employees amidst his rhetoric.
Atlantic City PD merger defeated
Atlantic City Local 24 called the NJ State PBA in March asking for help to thwart an Atlantic County effort to execute a Camden County-type merger of law enforcement officers.
Unanimous approval for NJSPBA PAC Fund
To bring more bite to the political action the organization had taken through the first six months of their leadership, Colligan and Kovar heard that a Political Action Committee (PAC) Fund would be the best move. They had been mulling bringing the concept to the membership since the annual convention in September.
PBA a perfect fit for new Salem County Corrections Local
The first PBA Local in Salem County realized it had to vote to leave the other labor organization in a PERC Election in December after a team from the state office made a moving presentation.
Union-Hudson prison regionalization defeated
In April, Union County Freeholders were on the verge of voting to close the county corrections facility and combine with operations in Hudson County.