6,000 police, firefighters protest cuts in N.J.

    More than 6,000 off-duty and retired police and firefighters rallied outside the New Jersey Statehouse Thursday to protest staff cuts and proposed changes in their benefits.

    Protesters said the budget cuts that have forced layoffs in police and fire departments affect the public safety.

    Lathey Wirkus, deputy chief in the Elizabeth Fire Department, said the public doesn’t realize what the cuts represent.

    “People don’t realize that the more firefighters and police officers that you cut, the less that are available to respond and assist you in your time of need,” said Wirkus.

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    Gov. Chris Christie characterized the demonstration as nothing more than another “me-first” rally.

    “They’ve chosen their own greed over the betterment of the public,” said Christie. “They’re worried about public safety out there. Then start making some compromises that acknowledge the economic circumstances the people of this state are in.”

    Andre Crawford, president of the Plainfield police union, said he’s upset the state wants police to pay more into their pension plans when the state has not made pension contributions in several years.

    “We didn’t cause the state’s problems,” said Crawford. “It’s a shame … these people put their lives on the line daily, and I think we’re being treated unfairly and we’re being made the scapegoats of the state.”

    Christie said Thursday’s rally and one last week by other unionized public workers have zero effect on his decision making.

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