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SUSPENDED WITHOUT PAY - NOW WHAT?

N.J.S.A. 40A:14-149.1 provides:

Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, whenever any municipal police officer is charged under the law of this State, another state, or the United States, with an offense, said police officer may be suspended from performing his duties, with pay, until the case against said officer is disposed of at trial, until the complaint is dismissed, or until the prosecution is terminated; provided, however, that if a grand jury returns an indictment against said officer, or said officer is charged with an offense which is a high misdemeanor or which involves moral turpitude or dishonesty, said officer may be suspended from his duties, without pay, until the case against him is disposed of at trial, until the complaint is dismissed or until the prosecution is terminated.

        In the matter of Herzog v. Township of Fairfield, 349 N.J. Super 601 (App. Div. 2002), the Herzog Court held that "suspensions without pay are precluded for officers charged solely with violations of departmental rules or regulations, except where conduct equivalent to the most serious of crimes involving moral turpitude or dishonesty is supportably alleged. "


  This article addresses the officer who is suspended without pay pending termination.  

One of the most traumatic events of a career, the officer that is suspended without pay pending termination can find himself alone, not knowing where to turn for help.  Often times he ends up at the doctors who prescribes antidepressants and antianxiety drugs.  He definitely needs an attorney and unfortunately, I have seen very few Unions be supportive of this officer.

As with any crisis the most important action you can take is to BE PREPARED!

1.     Choose an attorney wisely.  Many times you are thrown into this situation without any warning and you grab the first attorney you can get your hands on.  That's fine for the moment, but before you continue to utilize this attorney, look into his credentials and get recommendations.  If you are member of the New Jersey State PBA Protection Plan you have many choices. This could be the most important decision you make.

2.        Be involved in the decisions being made by your attorney.  You need to continue to receive a paycheck.  The law states that even if you are charged criminally, you should continue to receive a paycheck, unless the crime involves "moral turpitude or dishonesty".  Your Department is going to stop paying you in an effort to starve you into resigning.  Have your attorney challenge their decision to stop paying you, if he refuses to challenge the decision, you have chosen the wrong attorney, find another one.

Being suspended without pay is a tactic used to break you.  Not only are you under the stress of the internal investigation, the embarrassment of the publicity, and the stress to your home life, now they are going to bleed you financially.

3.      Apply for credit.  As soon as you are suspended, while your credit is still good, apply for credit cards and a homeowners line of credit. Call the credit card companies that you currently have and request a credit line increase on every card. If Internal Affairs is conducting an investigation and you are fairly sure that you are going to be charged, take a pension loan.  You can always give it back if you do not need it.

Be prepared financially to survive for the next 3 years which is the average amount of time for the charges to work their way through the court system to a resolution.  Remember, most Administrative Hearings are lost, they are "kangaroo courts", a formality before they fire you.  This means you will have to file an appeal to the Office of Administrative Law or the Superior Court.  If you loose there, you can add an additional year onto your waiting time while the Appellate Division hears your case.

4.        File for unemployment.  Many officers are unaware that even if they are suspended without pay (not fired) they can file for and receive unemployment.  Although many officers are embarrassed at this prospect, you can collect approximately $500.00 a week in unemployment for six months.   You apply over the phone, are interviewed over the phone and may never have to go into the office after your orientation.  Remember, this is not about pride, this is about survival.

                                      -or-

5.     File for disability.  If you are found unfit for duty you can collect disability benefits which are roughly the same as unemployment.   If you are suspended for being unfit for duty you should immediately file for disability and for your pension. Remember, filing for your pension is not an admission of guilt and you can withdraw your application at any time.  Furthermore, once you apply for your pension, the State Pension Board will send you for a Fitness for Duty exam from a doctor of their choosing (not your Department's doctor).  Chances are good that the State's doctor will find you fit for duty and the State will tell your Department to put you back to work.   (The State Pension Board does not want to give you your pension, they want you to continue to work.  They frown on Departments that use the pension system to get rid of undesirable officers).

6.        Fall apart with peace of mind (just kidding).  Once you have completed the above steps you can rest assured that you will have income for at least the next 6 months.  This will afford you time to pull yourself and your case together.  It will also give you time to look for work to sustain yourself and your family through this crisis.  There are many, many resources available to you . Although it may not feel like it now, you will get through this and be a stronger person because of it.  Many of us have survived this ordeal and have gone back to work afterwards.  Feel free to contact us or any of the providers listed on this site.  You are going to be just fine!


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