LAVALLETTE — Eight weeks after the appointment of Chief Christian LaCicero, the Lavallette Police Department remains under the command of Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer, whose recommendation against what he termed “an untimely appointment” of a new chief had been disregarded by the borough.
“The appointment of a new Lavallette Chief of Police didn’t change anything,” Prosecutor Billhimer said in a statement emailed to The Ocean Star on Thursday.
“We will remain in full command and control until we are satisfied that the Lavallette Police Department meets the standard of applicable OAG Directives, OCPO Directives and is fully accredited. The newly appointed Chief, Christian LaCicero reports to the Officer in Charge as appointed by this Office.”
Chief LaCicero said Thursday that the current role of the Prosecutor’s Office is to manage law enforcement operations in the borough. However, he said he was “not authorized” to discuss the exchange of communications between the prosecutor and the borough regarding the timing of his appointment as chief.
The borough and the prosecutor’s office have acknowledged that a letter from Mr. Billheimer to Borough Administrator John O. Bennett prior to Chief LaCicero’s Oct. 31 appointment, recommended that a new chief should not be appointed until the prosecutor’s office had completed a review of the Lavallette Police Department.
The review commenced after former Chief Colin Grant began an extended leave at the end of May, before retiring from the position.
Mr. Bennett also said the borough had proceeded with the appointment in order to comply with a Lavallette ordinance stating, “There shall be a Police Chief.”
“When Colin Grant’s … retirement went permanent,” Mr. Bennett said, “we had to follow our ordinances.”
Mr. Bennett said Lavallette officials had gone through the process of interviews, applications and civil service tests, and were also advised by the borough attorney to proceed with the appointment despite the prosecutor’s recommendation.
He also called Mr. Billheimer’s recommendation against the timing of the appointment “ironic,” saying it was the borough’s understanding that the prosecutor had taken command of the department and initiated its review because Colin Grant’s departure had left Lavallette without an active chief or a safety director.
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