Prominent developer Charles Florio is offering more than a dozen rent-free apartments to police officers willing to live in the city’s roughest neighborhoods. He is starting with 15 apartments, he said.
“I’m offering free apartments to anybody in the Paterson police force and Passaic County sheriff’s department,” said Florio. “It’s free for as long as they want to live in Paterson. We’re not asking for any favors.”
The apartment units are on 12th Avenue, North 5th Street, Godwin Avenue, North Main Street, and Governor Street, he said. These are the roughest streets in Paterson plagued by violence, drugs, and crime.
Florio said the idea struck him when he observed a discussion in which some suggested these areas were unsafe for police officers to live in. “It’s safe for the school teachers and their kids to live on Godwin Avenue, but not the police officers,” he said.
Police director Jerry Speziale described it as an “out-of-the-box” idea.
“That’s actually a brilliant concept,” said Speziale. “I think people will take him up on it.”
Speziale wondered whether the idea will pass ethical muster. He said the idea has to be vetted through the city’s legal department.
“I don’t know. I haven’t done the research,” said law director Domenick Stampone when asked whether it’s a feasible concept. No one has asked him to look into it, he said.
“I don’t think it’s an ethical dilemma,” said Raymond Hayducka, Jr., spokesman for the New Jersey Police Chiefs Association. “I think a nominal cost would probably give a better appearance.”
Hayducka said there have been cases in places like Detroit, St. Louis, and San Diego which offer reduced housing for police officers to make them live in the neighborhoods. He has not seen a rent-free concept.
“It’s not like he’s taking certain officers. If he opened it up to all officers and had some kind of selection process, in my opinion, I think it would be ethical,” said Hayducka, who is also chief of the South Brunswick Police Department. “I think it’s an outstanding idea.”
There’s a deterrence effect that comes from having police live in the neighborhoods. “The bad guys know that they are there and move their operations elsewhere,” said Hayducka.
Hayducka said something like this should be vetted through a local ethics board and cleared through the city’s legal department.
“To me it’s win-win. If they move in it makes the area safer,” said Florio. He said the officers, who receive the rent-free apartments will have to be domiciled at the addresses.
Rent typically runs for $1,000 in those areas. A police officer could see a savings of $12,000 per year.
“If I was a police officer coming on the force, I’d take up on the offer. Especially for the new ones,” said council president Ruby Cotton. A new police officer makes roughly $34,000 in the city.
Florio said interested officers can call him or visit his office at 449 East 18th Street.