About a week after filing a lawsuit seeking to take back control of its local police department from the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, Lavallette has regained command of the agency, the prosecutor’s office announced Friday.
“I am proud of the work we have done to assist the Lavallette Police Department,” Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said in a statement. “The police officers – the men and women that wear the uniform in Lavallette – have been very receptive to our implementation of formal procedures, practices and policies. I’m optimistic that Chief LaCicero will lead these men and women effectively moving forward,” Prosecutor Billhimer stated.
Chief Christian LaCicero was appointed late last year, but had never taken command of the department since it remained under county control following the decision of former chief Colin Grant to step down last spring to utilized unused vacation time in anticipation of a full retirement later in the year. Grant’s final day of work was in May, and his retirement became official Nov. 1, 2022. The prosecutor’s office had been providing daily command leadership as the borough searched for a new chief, which ended with the appointment of then-Sgt. Christian LaCicero to the post Nov. 14.
In its lawsuit filed March 15, the borough said the prosecutor’s office never articulated its reasoning for maintaining control of the department after the appointment of a new chief, and the only enumerated requirement – administrative accreditation by the non-governmental New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police – is not a requirement under state law. The prosecutor’s office, in announcing the return of command of the department to Lavallette, released a lengthy report on its activities which Shorebeat is reviewing for a lengthier story.
In the statement, the prosecutor’s office said since assuming full command and control of the department, the office conducted a “thorough evaluation of the department, highlighting areas in need of improvement and implementing plans and procedures to further the goal of meeting the necessary standards of a professional law enforcement agency.” The report “itemizes deficiencies that the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office addressed and corrected, as well as deficiencies that remain.”
The office also said it worked with LaCicero to acclimate him into the chief’s position. LaCicero, the son of Mayor Walter LaCicero, has 18 years of experience as an officer and served as a sergeant for nine years before qualifying for the chief’s position after taking a required exam and meeting civil service requirement.
“At this point in time, Chief LaCicero has completed chief’s training with the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police, Internal Affairs training provided by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, and has benefited from the leadership provided by this office – specifically Chief Carrington, Chief Mitchell, and Lt. Haggerty for the past ten months,” Billhimer said. “He is ready to lead the Lavallette Police Department.”
Billhimer wasa referring to OCPO Chief of Detectives Anthony U. Carrington and retired Chief of Detectives Joseph F. Mitchell, who returned from retirement to assist Carrington in day-to-day management of the Lavallette department, along with Lt. Brian Haggerty.
The prosecutor’s office first assumed command and control of the internal affairs functions of the Lavallette Police Department on December 16, 2021 – before Grant left the chief’s position – after an audit of the department’s records, the agency said. Earlier this month, the prosecutor’s office provided the required Office of Attorney General Internal Affairs training to all Ocean County Law Enforcement. LaCicero and two Lavallette sergeants attended and successfully completed the training.
“Now that the chief and two sergeants have been properly trained in conducting Internal Affairs investigations, the Internal Affairs function will also be returned to the Lavallette Police Department,” Billhimer explained.
Billhimer continued to encourage Lavallette to acquire the NJSACOP accreditation despite its cost. Generally, municipalities participate in the accreditation process to obtain significant savings in liability insurance costs, however Lavallette officials said for such a small department, the consulting fees required to train for the accreditation and annual renewal fees would cancel out any savings.
“While the borough has indicated that it is unable to afford the cost associated with getting the Lavallette Police Department accredited by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, it is my hope that they will, in time, be able to join the 26 other law enforcement agencies in Ocean County that are already accredited,” Billhimer said. “Accreditation ensures that a law enforcement agency is operating at maximum efficiency and reduces risk and liability exposure.”
Billhimer ended his statement on a positive note.
“I commend the officers of the Lavallette Police Department that stepped up and met the high standards that my office required of them,” he said. “It is important to me, as well as the residents of the borough, that the officers are properly trained and committed to keeping their community safe and secure.”
“I wish Chief LaCicero the best of luck in his position as Chief of the Lavallette Police Department and thank him for his service to the community,” he concluded.