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Falcone v. De Furia

Decided: July 9, 1986.

JOSEPH A. FALCONE, PASSAIC COUNTY PROSECUTOR, AND BERNARD TERRANOVA, CHIEF OF POLICE, TOWNSHIP OF LITTLE FALLS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
FREDERICK DE FURIA, MAYOR OF THE TOWNSHIP OF LITTLE FALLS, AND THE TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE OF LITTLE FALLS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 199 N.J. Super. 554 (1985).

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi, and Stein. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pollock, J.

Pollock

[103 NJ Page 220] This case questions the validity of an ordinance that provides for appointment of detectives by the police chief with the approval of the governing body. In reported decisions, both the Law Division, 199 N.J. Super. 549 (1984), and the Appellate Division, 199 N.J. Super. 554 (1985), found the ordinance to be valid. We granted certification, 101 N.J. 291 (1985), and now affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division.

Before 1981, N.J.S.A. 40A:14-118 gave municipal governing bodies broad authority to regulate the internal affairs of police departments, including the authority to prescribe the duties and functions of police officers. The powers of a chief of police derived not from a statute, but from municipal ordinances and regulations. Smith v. Township of Hazlet, 63 N.J. 523, 526-27 (1973). During this period, a Little Falls ordinance had empowered the Township Committee to appoint members of the police department, to prescribe duties of the members, and had established a detective bureau, to which members were assigned by the chief of police with the approval of the police commissioner.

In 1981 the Legislature amended N.J.S.A. 40A:14-118 to redefine the relationship between a municipal governing body and the chief of police. The amendment states that municipalities by ordinance shall "provide for a line of authority relating to the police function * * *."*fn1 The statute further states that the ordinance may provide

for the appointment of a chief of police and such and; as members, officers and personnel as shall be deemed necessary, the determination of their terms of

office, the fixing of their compensation and the prescription of their powers, functions and duties, all as the governing body shall deem necessary for the effective government of the force.

Furthermore, the statute declares that if the governing body establishes the position of chief of police, the chief "shall be the head of the police force and that he shall be directly responsible to the appropriate authority for the efficiency and routine day to day operations" of the police force. Pursuant to policies established by the appropriate authority, the chief shall "[p]rescribe the duties and assignments of all subordinates and other personnel." N.J.S.A. 40A:14-118c. By granting chiefs of police express statutory authority, the statute sought to avoid undue interference by a governing body into the operation of the police force.

In 1983, the Little Falls Township Committee adopted Ordinance 500, which established a detective bureau and provided that the police chief should appoint detectives with the approval of the Township Committee.*fn2 A dispute arose between the Township Committee, Mayor and Police Commissioner, on the

one hand, and, on the other, the Chief of Police about who had the authority to designate detectives. After the police commissioner and Township Committee twice disapproved the chief's choice of detectives, the Passaic County Prosecutor filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment that Ordinance 500 was invalid. Subsequently, the Chief of Police joined the action as a plaintiff.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Noting that detectives must possess greater ...


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