WAYNE, NJ — Police Chief Jack McNiff isn't claiming that his department is perfect, but he doesn't feel like recent criticism leveled at an officer on his force is fair.
In a Friday morning Instagram post, McNiff shared a written response to the critique of Board of Education member Dawn Kumar at last week's Town Council meeting.
Kumar, who emphasized to Patch that she was speaking at the meeting as a public citizen, cited an instance of a police officer not wearing a mask while inside Costco, and also pointed out the department's failure to stop Wayne Valley High School students from holding their own impromptu graduation ceremony.
Kumar leveled criticism at both the police department and Mayor Christopher Vergano, stating that both haven't lived up to the present moment.
"These examples show a Mayor who doesn't care about public health despite quoting Covid-19 death totals, and a police department who is not serving and protecting the community," she said at the meeting.
McNiff used the Instagram post to defend his department, the officer in question, and the collective township response to the coronavirus pandemic.
To the accusation toward the officer, McNiff leveled with Kumar that they should have been wearing a mask, but said he needed more context.
"Without more information on whether or not that officer was responding to a specific call or taking a drink of water in the 95 degree heat, I am unable to make a determination," he wrote.
"However, the hard work and amazing reputation of 114 men and women should not be minimized and marred by such hasty generalizations."
McNiff continued his defense by detailing what he said his department has done since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
The department, he said, responded to roughly 10,000 COVID-19 related service calls, which required "a total of 11,000 Wayne Police resources."
These tasks, he said, put the lives of officers at risk, and required some to quarantine.
On the matter of the impromptu graduation, McNiff said he was "unaware" of any complaints of trespassing or use of the Wayne Valley football field.
He then compared the senior-led graduation event to other rallies and marches that occurred in the township, without explicitly naming the Black Lives Matter movement.
There was a protest in Wayne following the death of George Floyd in June. Floyd, 46, died with the knee of a white police officer on his neck.
The graduation event followed a tumultuous few days, which included the scheduling of a township hosted graduation, which was eventually cancelled as Gov. Phil Murphy sued the township and Vergano to halt the graduation.
Vergano said in a Friday email to Patch that his goal for organizing the graduation was to host an event that parents were able to attend and celebrate their children's accomplishment.
"My only purpose and goal was to facilitate a safe graduation ceremony for our graduating students where their parents would be able to attend and celebrate the many accomplishments of their graduating children. The courts ruled against us and the graduation was held on July 8th without parents permitted to attend," he said.
In closing, McNiff saught an apology from Kumar, who he said spoke in "ill-informed" innuendo.
"I'm certain she will apologize to the amazing women and men on the front lines of this police department, once she has all of the facts," said McNiff.
Kumar did apologize in a written statement to Patch.
"I do apologize to anyone who may have been offended by my comments," she said.
However, Kumar clarified that criticism is not the same as condemnation.
"Regarding my comments towards the police, I do support them and think that the vast majority do a great job for our community. However, that does not mean they, or any public servant, is above criticism," said Kumar.
She added her belief that mask wearing by police not only sets an example for the greater public, but also ensures the safety of the officers and citizens of Wayne.
"The statement I made at the town council meeting was not a political one. Mask wearing and social distancing are science-based, common sense measures to help contain the spread of COVID19," she said.
"I want nothing more than the police to remain safe on the job, which is why I was asking for the Mayor to show leadership."
Read the Chief's full letter below:
View this post on InstagramA message from Chief Jack McNiff regarding comments made by a board of education trustee.
A post shared by Wayne Police Department (@waynepolicenj) on Jul 24, 2020 at 4:21am PDT
And Kumar's, also below:
I would like to make clear, as I did at the town council meeting, that I am speaking as a private citizen. As a private citizen, I have a first amendment right to speak in public, and share concerns with elected officials. Regarding my comments towards the police, I do support them and think that the vast majority do a great job for our community. However, that does not mean they, or any public servant, is above criticism. The Chief even admitted that no one is perfect. I do apologize to anyone who may have been offended by my comments. The statement I made at the town council meeting was not a political one. Mask wearing and social distancing are science-based, common sense measures to help contain the spread of COVID19. I want nothing more than the police to remain safe on the job, which is why I was asking for the Mayor to show leadership. Following those guidelines will show the police they are supported, so when they need to ask someone to put their mask on or break up a large gathering, they are already setting that example. Ultimately, I am worried as many citizens are for the public health of our community, and wish that we may come together for the common good on this topic. Instead of attacking me for my comments, I would appreciate hearing the Mayor's stance on mask wearing and social distancing and whether or not he will set a better example going forward.
Dawn Kumar Concerned Citizen of Wayne Township, NJ