NJSPBA President Pat Colligan and Executive Vice President Marc Kovar sat down with NJ Cops Magazine Publisher Mitchell Krugel to examine important topics and offer their well-informed, inspirational and even provocative takes to give members a state of the union.
Momentarily sequestered in the president’s office at NJSPBA headquarters in Woodbridge, Pat Colligan and Marc Kovar have some time to contemplate life as union leaders and law enforcement officers. Normally, the PBA president and executive vice president do their contemplating in a more relaxed posture, but there has been very little cause to relax these past many months.
Instead, they partake of some Chick-fil-A that has been brought in for lunch. And they sit at the round table preparing to share nuggets of wisdom, empathy, explanation and motivation about putting 2020 in the past, the headlines they anticipate for 2021, the PBA’s input to the new use of force policy and how they have handled the attorney general, pandemic-centric issues such as its effect on collective bargaining and the vaccine, the impact of a new administration in Washington, D.C. and how much they miss meetings, events and hanging out with members.
These are the conversation pieces your PBA president and executive vice president chewed on when considering the state of the union. As they have so often since taking the PBA reins nearly seven years ago, Colligan and Kovar lend a voice to what much of the membership is currently thinking.
“It’s not hard to look forward and avoid looking in the rearview mirror. That was a trying year,” Colligan empathized. “But I keep saying it that despite incredible circumstances, our members stood above it and did an incredible job considering we went into COVID with no knowledge of what it was going to do or what it could do to us. You can’t answer calls via Zoom. They did it, and they did it well.”
As Kovar praises how members lived in their garages to avoid exposing their families to the virus and faced down insults, threats and frozen water bottles hurled at them by protestors, he lends his no-holds-barred articulation to the state of the union.
“I don’t know what the proper word is, but kudos to all the women and men who went to work every day,” he emphasized. “Where are all the accolades for that? We got kicked in the balls, and you didn’t hear a word out of us. We just came to work every day. I just hope we can say this is a once-in-a-lifetime year.”
This is the tone they bring to the state of the union. Read along topic-by-topic to get an unfiltered take about putting 2020 in the past and what’s ahead for 2021.
The Topic: The protest rallies of 2020
The Take: We enter 2021 stronger not just for what we endured but how we endured.
Pat: In New Jersey, we had hundreds and hundreds of protests that all had the ability to turn bad for our members and for the community. Every single one of them, even the three or four that really came close, every single one of them was handled as professionally as it could possibly been handled.
Marc: Our members got abused. I’m thinking places like Atlantic City, Asbury Park and Trenton.
Pat: Atlantic City responded to that despite being grossly under understaffed with mold in their helmets and poor equipment. But they still came back for the second and third one, after almost losing the line at the first riot. I’ll call it a riot. When legislators are coming up with the new Atlantic City bill this year, I hope they look back and realize what a great job they did.
Marc: I’d say, yeah. If this didn’t bring us together, nothing ever will. We did eight years of Chris Christie and now, we were hoping everything was going to be normal again. Then we get a pandemic and a national incident like that. You just pray that will never happen again.
Pat: I think we’re stronger because of it. I say it all the time. We went from heroes to zeros in one afternoon. Nothing changed on our end. One officer decides to kneel on somebody’s neck for eight and
a half minutes and it shouldn’t damn the rest of us. So I think despite the difficulties that we had and having this anti-law enforcement sentiment just makes us stronger. We’re a resilient group.
The Topic: Headlines we’d like to see in 2021
The Take: Good news.
Pat: The vaccine has a 100-percent effectiveness rate…’20 and Out’ is sign that we have some relief from Chapter 78…The economy is strong and, therefore, our members get what they deserve.
Marc: Our nation comes back to one. These problems are not New Jersey issues. If there were New Jersey issues, I’d say yeah, we got to take this bull by the horns and get ahead of it. We don’t have these issues in Jersey. Yeah, we have bad apples. We have bad people, and we don’t want the bad people. But we don’t have these issues in Jersey.
The Topic: The new use-of-force policy
The Take: The PBA’s ability to intercede made this nothing really to get hot and bothered about.
Marc: If an officer is doing his job the right way, nothing really changed in that policy dramatically. I think guys overreacted in the beginning when they saw it. Once they actually took the time to read through it, or listen, I think a lot of our members calmed down.
Pat: If they actually read the policy, it hasn’t changed in 20 years. Policing certainly has. Policing has changed dramatically during the past six months. We can’t be tone deaf to it. When you actually look at the policy, like Marc said, the parameters tightened a little bit. But it’s not like New York City where officers are prohibited from using choke holds even in deadly force. By being on the policy committee, we were able to bring some semblance of professionalism to it, and make sure some of those changes that were proposed did not make it into the policy because there were some radical changes that had no place in policing.
Marc: Everybody asks, “Why do you talk to the governor?” And why do we have a relationship with the attorney general? If we had no seat at the table, that policy would have been 100 times worse. But they give us a seat at the table, so you can’t cut that off. We have to have a line of communication.
The Topic: Attorney General’s order for all law enforcement agencies to publicly identify officers who have committed serious disciplinary violations
The Take: He is the one violating the public trust.
Pat: I think it’s a horrible policy. The prosecutors think it’s a horrible policy and the chiefs think it’s a horrible policy. I think it was reactionary to what the popular mantra was when he decided to implement the policy. I think he can’t talk about resiliency out of one side of his mouth and then talk about exposing 20 years of records out of the other side of his mouth. Our members went into agreements that they thought would never see the light of day again. Just because the press wants it or a public looking for titillating information wants it, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. If you want to violate the public trust, as we’ve told him, publish. But to just go in and do that was just grossly unfair.
Marc: If you reach out for help or go into rehab, or let’s just say, you had a domestic. I mean 18, 19 years ago and you never had a problem again in your life. Now, you have three kids and you’re married and it’s going to be put out for everybody to hear. It makes no sense to me. You kept your job. You worked well for the last 18 years, and now you’re going to get embarrassed. That’s not what our members signed up for.
Pat: It’s also, subjective. A chief in Essex County is not going to discipline the same way a chief in Salem County is. It doesn’t happen. What’s considered an egregious offense in one department is a minor offense in another. So, there’s no hard-and-fast rules. It’s grossly unfair.
The Topic: The PBA’s relationship with the attorney general
The Take: We still have a seat at the table.
Pat: With the discipline order, he painted us as trying to keep something secret. He knew that wasn’t the case because we had a meeting with him. He knew that was not the position we had. So that’s what was disappointing because is it the attorney general that we knew, or is it the attorney general who wants to be a politician?
Marc: The first week of March, when he came to our mini convention, 1,500 men and women applauded him. And a little over two months later, we were public enemy. We finally built a good relationship with him, and one incident happens in Minnesota and he turned the lights off on us. But we still have a seat at the table after all this, and that’s fortifying.
Pat: It’s important because he’s the chief law enforcement officer, and we represent eight and a half out of 10 of the people that are subordinate to him. And it was crazy during the Christie administration when we had no relationship with the attorney general. We were going through an attorney general every 10 minutes under that administration. It was ludicrous. What we have achieved is that you don’t have to listen to us, but we need to have a voice for our membership.
The Topic: How a pandemic-stricken economy will affect collective bargaining
The Take: COVID is not an excuse to short-change members.
Pat: It’s tough to ignore it. I think, luckily, COVID has not had the impact that everybody feared, initially. I think if municipal administrations are legitimate, then sometimes they’re going to be more effective than others, like they always are. But don’t be disingenuous and tell the members that there’s no money, and then go build a new golf course or put up a new park. These are the men and women who are responding to your calls for service. Council people and mayors had the convenience of doing things via Zoom. We didn’t have that. While they were home safely, we were answering their calls for service and keeping their towns, counties and the state safe. If there’s a tax collection problem or the economy tanks, then so be it, but it seems that there’s not been that crisis yet. It may come this year; we don’t know. But just don’t be disingenuous with your employees.
Marc: I think we should be grateful that we’re still employed because how many hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. But this shouldn’t affect your contract negotiations. They should be treating you in the same way: honestly. It might affect your raise and stuff, but you should still be trying to get the best raise the same way.
Pat: I know that there is no union that is better prepared for contract negotiations than the State PBA. They know if there’s no money, if tax collection is down or there is no surplus that they’re not going to get decent raises. But we give you the tools to do the best you can in contract negotiations.
The Topic: Getting the vaccine to members
The Take: It’s coming.
Pat: Yeah, we’re trying. For the record, Doug Forrester at Integrity Health is trying to open up something at his Somerset County facility and get some of the vaccine to fill in the gaps for those towns that haven’t made those arrangements yet. We were moved into 1A from 1B the other day by the governor, which is where we should have been from the very beginning.
Marc: We had a meeting with the governor’s office to expedite that. He listened to us right away and helped us. That’s why we have still our relationship with the governor because of things like this.
The Topic: Missing being with the members
The Take: Can’t wait to see everybody.
Marc: I didn’t notice it at all for the first month or two. Then it’s like, you really start missing the in-person. I can’t wait for it to get back to live meetings without masks and just being back to normal again.
Pat: We had that break at the end of the spring when we did PBA Day at Tices Shoal. The overwhelming consensus I got was, “Boy, we needed this.” We recognized that we all need it. We all need to blow off 2020. I’m looking forward to it maybe more than anybody else. So, I don’t want to say look out because what if something happens. But we’re anxious to get everybody back together and get back to some sense of normalcy.
The Topic: The impact of the new administration in Washington, D.C.
The Take: Hopefully, they will realize that defunding the police will be a crime.
Marc: This can be scary at times. We will have to wait and see, but it’s potential for some scary times ahead. Who knows what kind of crazy legislation they’re going to try to impose now that they have all three branches of government.
Pat: We’re lucky that New Jersey hasn’t been part of the conversation. But I’ve written about this: Many hundreds of people aren’t that lucky. The defunding conversation has literally killed and maimed people. If somebody hasn’t looked at the defunding movement and the insane percentages of increases in crime, then put your head back in the sand and continue with your life of not opening your eyes, including our legislators because the year-end numbers were literally staggering. The defunding movement has proven itself abysmal. But because hundreds of people died, nobody seems to want to put a face or a name to those statistics. It’s ludicrous.
The Topic: What members need to do this year
The Take: Our words of inspiration for 2021
Marc: Just keep the faith, watch each other’s backs and be there for each other. Especially the supervisors. Stupid nitpicking and that type of stuff has to end because we can’t protect each other, and that is so important now with this environment that’s so against us. Let’s stick together and be one.
Pat: I agree with Marc because when you go on some of the social media and some of the police groups, it’s hard to explain. We’re happy to accept criticism. It’s what makes us run. It’s what keeps us in check. But for the member who decides that he doesn’t want to be involved in the union, at least ask intelligent questions. There are reasons we do things like being involved in politics. The thing that I despise is seeing members post that we shouldn’t be involved in politics. Well, then give back your PBA mortgage, give back your right to the arbitration. There’s a reason we’re here. We’re here every day, every night fighting for the rights of our members. Sometimes to see just the anger, the keyboard cowards that are experts on everything but couldn’t find their PBA meeting with a GPS and a gift card is discouraging. This PBA lives with us every day. Again, we hope that there’s more engagement. Nothing gets done from behind your keyboard. Show up at your PBA meeting. Show up and do something instead of sitting there and criticize.