Millburn police discussed the increase in crime in Millburn in the last year but put it in perspective on Thursday night – it’s still way down from 10 years ago.
Still, they said, the current crime spree involving and thefts is so pervasive in the area that police, like surrounding towns, have , are participating in a and are trying to involve residents to help.
“We’d like to get a partnership going here with the community,” said Millburn Chief Greg Weber. “This is a problem we are dealing with all over the county, the state and beyond.”
Said acting Captain Michael Palardy, “We’d like to use you as an extension of us to help us solve some of these crimes. If you see anything suspicious in your neighborhood, report it right away.”
At a meeting sponsored Thursday night by the Short Hills Association, Weber, Palardy and Detective Lt. Keith Laverty answered questions and took a little heat from residents who say they feel the police department has a public relations problem in that they public does not know what the department is doing.
“I have lived here four years and have never seen a police officer on my street. Do you patrol?” asked one resident.
The escalating crime, including home break-ins while people were home, also have people worried and wanting action.
“We have people who don’t feel safe," one resident said. "If you are understaffed or need more resources, ask for it. We’ll support you in that. This is very important to everyone who lives here.”
The department currently has 50 police officers and 15 cars and is in the process of hiring four more officers, said Chief Weber.
“I wish I could have 100 guys,” but that is not feasible given the budget constraints, other township expenses and the town’s already high taxes, he said. “We are efficient and do a great job with the number we have."
One of the ways Weber said he has allocated his resources as efficiently as possible is to put more patrolmen on the streets and leave the two captain’s jobs vacant.
“I am not understaffed for people on the road,” he said. “I’m understaffed at the top.”
Weber also has requests in with the township to set upthrough out town – at the train stations, in locations in the downtown areas and at the town’s entrances and exits, but at $500,000, that is a costly proposal and he’s not sure how much of that will be OK by the Township Committee.
Police could also use a license plate reader, which costs about $25,000 and Weber has requested that The Mall at Short Hills help with that expense.
“That would help us out immensely,” Weber said.
While the meeting was in a Town Hall style format, it was not a Town Hall meeting in that no representative from the Township Committee was there.
Stewart Cohen, president of the Short Hills Association, said he put the meeting together two weeks ago in response to members' concerns and the lack of a such a meeting at the township level.
“Hopefully this will start the dialogue,” he said.
In his remarks to the crowd of approximately 30 people at the Millburn Library, Cohen said, “The recent spate of crime, including two carjackings and some home break-ins has been a major cause of concern for our residents. We trust that Chief Weber will allay some of our concerns and that the perception is worse than the reality.”
The reality, the chief and his officers said, is that while crime is up in 2011 over 2010, it is down from several years ago.
The Department will not have its official crime stats until next week, after a state audit of the department is complete, Weber said, but there were 26 car thefts in 2011 over about a dozen in 2010.
“It has much increased in the last year and it’s too much, but to give you some perspective, we had about 150 in 1995,” Det. Laverty said. “It was much more of an issue in the mid 1990s when I started here.”
Still, the issue is big enough that the department is devoting a detective part-time to the regional task force and is working with state authorities to track suspects. Sometimes it seems to take a long time because DNA or fingerprints and take awhile to come back because of all the other crimes throughout the state. Newark alone had about 350 carjackings last year.
“Millburn had two, which is two too many,” Weber said. “Still, you can see when you’re working with the state crime lab, why it might take awhile.”
Many in the audience had been victims of home burglaries, car burglaries or thefts of some kind.
One couple, while they were home last summer, said they felt if the response time had been quicker, police could have caught the suspects while they were in the house.
Police said the is 3-4 minutes and it varies given the circumstances. A crime in progress or a heart attack will get a faster response time than a broken bone.
And while the suggestion was made to start neighborhood watch groups because they are known to reduce crime, both the police and some residents said they did not think neighborhood watch would work in some of neighborhoods in town because neighbors don’t know each other anymore.
Police said that problem is particularly an issue in Short Hills where yards are so big and landscaping is such that you can’t really see onto anyone’s property.
One of the ways police hope help people be better informed and involved is through social media, and they are looking at Twitter as one way of better communicating. They also have a reverse 911 (Code Red) system, but it is costly to send out messages on that.
Palardy gave the audience some crime prevention tips:
- Report suspicious activity
- Trim hedges
- Keep lights on
- Keep car doors locked, take valuables out of cars, don't leave the keys in the car
- Wipe off the GPS smudge on the window
- Install sensor lights
- Own a dog
- Let the police know when you're away
- Set car alarms and home alarms