Good schools and quiet neighborhoods are attractive qualities in many towns in Morris County, but to be labeled as one of the safest in the state takes hard work, dedication and community cohesiveness, according to some local police chiefs.
A recent study conducted by Safewise security organization identified five local towns as one of the top “50 Safest Communities in New Jersey.” The Safewise Report reveals that Washington, Morris, Randolph, Mt. Olive and Roxbury townships are among the top 50 out of hundreds of communities throughout the state.
To compile the report, the community-focused security organization used the most recent FBI crime data from 2011, population, safety initiatives, security programs implemented within the past few years and other ranking factors. It then ranked the communities based on criteria met.
According to the list, Washington Twp. was ranked fourth; Morris Twp., 18; Randolph Twp., 21; Mt. Olive Twp., 24; and Roxbury Twp., 42.
“From relaxed rural countrysides to fast-paced city living, the 50 safest communities in New Jersey share one critical, crime stopping characteristic: community cohesiveness,” says SafeWise Security Analyst Alexia Chianis. “The vast assortment of community committees, educational organizations, and charity groups I discovered was nothing short of impressive and undoubtedly helps foster a sense of respect and concern for neighbors that’s imperative when fighting crime.”
Local police officers from the towns ranked in the Safewise Report recently commented on their ranking, their community safety and cohesiveness, initiatives and safety programs that they use as well as any forecasted improvements.
To be ranked number four out of hundreds of communities is quite an accomplishment achieved by Washington Twp.
“It is not surprising, because we have very dedicated, hardworking officers that care about this community,” says Police Chief Michael Bailey of Washington Township Police Dept. “We just focus on good old fashion patrol tactics, staying alert and vigilant. I am just proud for the township and the police officers, who work so hard to make this community so safe, and we will continue to work in hopes to make people feel safe in this not so safe world.”
In comparing Washington Twp. to other communities, Bailey says “the Washington Township Police department and the residents of Washington Township have a great relationship of trust. They realize they need us and we realize that without their help it makes our jobs a lot harder. The support by the residents is what drives our officers to serve.”
Some security programs the Washington Twp. police department offers include house checks, senior citizen assistance, education to the schools and residents, “and we are very proactive in patrolling the township developments and businesses,” says Bailey.
He agrees that community cohesiveness has helped with crime stopping methods in Washington.
“Due to the size of Washington Township and the number of officers we can not be everywhere all the time,” says Bailey. “We rely heavily on the residents to give us information. Once we have that information we can take the appropriate course of action.”
Bailey gave examples such as when one of his officers was patrolling a neighborhood and he noticed heavy smoke emanating from a home. He made entry and found that the furnace was not working properly and filling the house with smoke. No resident was home at the time. They turned off the furnace, contacted the fire department and the homeowner and saved the house from burning.
Another example was a sting of calls from residents in the area that involved “a bunch” of car burglaries. “Each of the residents had a little information to add to what they saw and when all that information was compiled it led us to a vehicle and subsequently an arrest,” says Bailey. “With out the help from all of these residents we might still be trying to solve this case.”
Even ranked fourth, there is always room for improvement.
“The goal is always to be number one. We will continue to work hard with the residents to achieve that goal,” says Bailey.
“I think the more we educate the community the better off we will be,” says Bailey. “I believe that we have to encourage them to call us even if they do not think the information they have is significant; when it is added to what we already have it becomes significant, and I believe you have to treat people with respect if you want to gain their respect. With the respect from each other you build trust, and that makes for a good working relationship.”
Ranked 18 out of the top 50, Morris Twp. Police Chief John McGuinness notes the reduction in burglaries and the development of a “proactive” Crime Prevention Unit as key factors in Morris Townships’ recent ranking.
“I have been a police officer for just over 30 years,” says McGuinness. “When I started my career we averaged about one home burglary a day. Today and over the years we are proud to have reduced that number to typically less than 30.”
Also noted was the reduction in Morris Township’s violent crime index from 60 incidents in 2011 to 15 in 2012, says McGuinness.
“Most of our township residents live in a neighborhood that are organized or have developed a sense of community that allows the police department to have an unfiltered means to communicate to our residents,” says McGuinness. “Communication is a key component between the police and the community. We use Email blast directed to our neighborhood watch group captains, Nixel Alerts, the Township Messenger and NEW web page to keep residents informed and provide an avenue for our citizens to talk to us.”
For security, Morris Twp. uses Neighborhood Watch with about 35 groups, as well as community outreach programs. “I have met with our senior citizen, church groups and neighborhood to address concerns from traffic safety to lottery frauds,” says McGuinness.
On Dec. 18, a resident in a Neighborhood Watch area observed three suspicious males she did not recognize, describes McGuinness. She called 911 right away and when the patrol officers arrived they began to check homes and found a burglary in progress. Three suspects were arrested.
While improvements are always needed, funding is a key factor in moving forward.
“Like any community if we could increase the funding for public safety,” McGuinnes says there could be improvements. “The township works extremely well within the fiscal constraints of the State of New Jersey to provide the residents with the best means to protect our community. Police, Fire and EMS could provide a wish list of equipment to purchase or personnel to hire.”
Until then, McGuinness says the goals of making Morris Twp. an even safer place to live is to “Continue to grow our communications network with the community members; continue to take advantage and explore opportunities to train our police in the best manner possible; and access the best technology available to keep our community safe.”
Listed not too far below Morris Twp. is Randolph Twp., which was ranked 21.
“I was happy but not surprised to have learned of our ranking,” says Chief of Police David Stokoe of Randolph Twp. Police Department. “Randolph Township is a great place to both live and work and our police department works very hard every day to provide the best police services to our community. We are a very service oriented police department and we enjoy working with the community as a whole.”
Stokoe points out that Randolph is situated in the heart of Morris County “which has one of the highest quality of life standards in the state. Randolph Township is an extension of Morris County and is situated in a great area which correlates into having a safer Township.”
Stokoe says, “We are a very service oriented police department that is attentive to the needs and concerns of our residents. We place a great emphasis on responding to any/all calls for service that we receive from our residents regardless of whether or not they are what we believe to be law enforcement matters. We will always look to assist the resident with their situation.”
When it comes to safety, “we will attempt to assist our residents with security issues on a case by case basis given our available resources,” says Stokoe. “We also conduct business and property checks as part of our normal patrol related activities.”
In looking at the town’s crime statistics, Stokoe reports that the last homicide was in 2011. “We are always extremely low if any for rapes, robberies and arson incidents. However, occasionally we will experience them as well. Each year we do experience some burglary incidents which run fairly consistent year to year. “
Community cohesiveness definitely plays a role in Randolph in maintaining safety.
“Having a close knit community means that people care about the community, one another and what happens,” says Stokoe. “This equates into people being more likely to watch out for each other and to work with the police which makes for a safer environment for everyone.”
As far as improvement, Stokoe says “I would like to see residents report suspicious incidents, individuals and activity immediately as it is occurring. This affords the police department with the best opportunity to positively resolve the incident. All too often residents wait until well after the incident or activity occurred or until the following day to report the incident which significantly reduces our ability to resolve the matter.”
The Randolph Police Dept. is also “working very hard to increase our current staffing levels,” says Stokoe. For a number of different reasons, including economic, the police department was operating at 28 sworn officers in 2013. Currently, it has 32 sworn officers on the force, with two additional officers scheduled to join in February.
“We will continue our efforts as our goal is to reach 36 officers in 2014,” says Stokoe. Additional officers will allow us to increase our patrol and service related activities.”
Mount Olive Township
To be ranked in the top 25 for safest communities in NJ is something to be proud.
“I was pleased but not surprised to hear we were listed in the top 25 safest communities in New Jersey,” says Mt. Olive Police Chief Mark Spitzer. “We have been working hard at making a difference and I think we are being very effective.”
Spitzer commends his patrol and investigative divisions in helping to lower the township’s crime rate.
“I think key efforts that are impacting our lower crime rate are the way our Patrol Division thoroughly tours the township in combination with expert follow up investigative efforts our Investigative Division delivers,” says Spitzer. Lieutenant John Glinko heads the Patrol Division, and as part of his command he assures that patrols focus on the Directed Patrol List (DPL) which concentrates the officer’s attention towards predetermined problem areas for daily observation.”
The DPL has been effective towards reducing crime, traffic issues, and other quality of life issues in areas that have been identified by previous crimes and intelligence information.
“Our patrol officers take it personally when something happens in the town,” says Spitzer. “They make every effort to deter crimes, to follow up on crimes that do occur with professional investigations. Our Investigation Division, led by Detective Lieutenant Dunn, is also a big part of keeping Mt. Olive safe and each of the detectives is equally disappointed when safety is threatened.”
One security measure in town, that helps to defend vacationing home owners from burglaries, is the Mt. Olive Vacant Home Check program. “Burglars often target victims while they are away on vacation or away for some other reason, like a family member’s funeral. In the event a resident knows they are going to be away for a period of time they can register with the police department by going to www.mopd.org and looking for the vacant home registry. That will add the resident to the DPL and will direct officers throughout the day to check on the residence when available. The web page “has proved to be a useful communications tool in assisting the community.”
In Feb. 2013, the MOPD received State Accreditation status by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP), after the department was tested and measured for two years for its “best practices” as delineated by NJSACOP’s Accreditation Program. “The program further illustrates our commitment as a police agency towards a positive culture; one that works collaboratively with our partners in the community,” says Spitzer. “We were also awarded National Recognition by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).”
Spitzer says, “I believe we do have a strong “Community Cohesiveness” and I think that sentiment emanates from many places. The police department is only a part of that unification. Certainly, our town government has adopted a very service-oriented approach and Mayor Greenbaum is extremely responsive to suggestions and requests from the residents. Our Business Administrator shares that sentiment and strongly advocates a desire to be accountable; the Township Council shares this concern for safety and service. The attitude is becoming more and more the culture of Mt. Olive.
“Additionally and sadly, over the last several years we have seen our share of tragedies in the community,” continues Spitzer. “The way the community has responded, and in a large part, the manner in which the families who suffered losses themselves have responded, has brought us together all the more as a community. Hurricane Sandy is another recent challenge that strengthened us as a community.”
Like other communities, Mt. Olive strives to be even better and safer.
“I think that one issue that is still plaguing us is the drug problem,” says Spitzer. “It is not contained to Mt. Olive alone but seems rather to be nationally epidemic. We continue to see the abuse of prescription drugs. When the demands for more pills increase and addiction worsens and prescription abuse becomes financially impossible, we see heroin being used as a substitute. Addiction issues lead to increased property crimes like burglary and thefts; it also increases violent crime as well. As a case in point, the subject arrested and convicted for robbing the bank in Budd Lake, as well as other banks in the area, blamed heroin addiction for his actions.”
As far as goals to seek improvement, Spitzer says, “Our initiatives remain the same, and that is to best identify what is causing crime and attack that specifically; all while continuing to determine probable areas where crime is most likely to occur and being there to deter, interrupt or arrest those who commit it.”
Ranked 42 out of the top 50, Roxbury Police Chief James Simonetti is pleased with the township’s accomplishment.
“I was proud of the accomplishments and successes of all the contributors in our Township, who strived to make our community a safe one,” says Simonetti. “My mind then shifted to think of ways to improve our efforts in combating crime in our community and ways to challenge ourselves so we can achieve a higher ranking.”
Compared to other communities, Simonetti says in Roxbury “Our officers are empowered to be creative and take crime that occurs in their assigned area personally. We also have great support from our Mayor, Council and the Township Manager. They provide us with the latest technology and equipment to keep the department in the forefront of crime prevention and enforcement.”
As far as statistics, in Roxbury the violent crime (Murder, Rape, Robbery and Aggravated Assault) per 1,000 residents remained at .4 percent; its nonviolent crime rate (Burglary, Larceny and Motor Vehicle Theft) increased slightly by 1.1 percent per 1,000 residents. Although final numbers are not in from the NJ State Police, Simonetti says he believes “we have lowered our crime rate.”
For unique safety initiatives offered to its community, Roxbury’s Detective Division had started an initiative to target suspected individuals that were pawning stolen property at locations that purchase gold and precious metals. They teamed up with adjoining towns, Hopatcong and Mt. Arlington, to create an informal task force, describes Simonetti.
“They quickly found the association between our current drug epidemic and our nonviolent crime,” says Simonetti. “The suspects that are breaking into homes, cars and committing thefts are the same individuals selling prescription drugs and illegal narcotics in our area. In less than a year, they arrested over 100 individuals and our Burglary rate dropped 2.2 percent, our Thefts dropped 18.3 percent and our auto theft dropped 40 percent.
For security programs, Roxbury police offer a Community Service Unit to provide information to senior high school students regarding recent crime trends and methods being used to commit crimes. “We have an active relationship with our schools to provide a unified approach on keeping our children safe. Some of the special programs that we offer are “Every 15 Minutes” and “Alive at 25” to our new drivers.
“If you are a victim of a crime we offer a crime survey and analysis to make recommendations to make improvements so that you make it harder for the criminal,” explains Simonetti.
Like the other safest towns, community cohesiveness shines in Roxbury.
“Our officers are involved in our community and our community is responsive and active in providing the information we need to improve our approach,” says Simonetti. “We have teamed up with our schools and communicate regularly with them. Our officers assist in coaching several sports in the school and build those critical relationships with the students.”
In addition, Roxbury Twp. has many “safe” places available for the youth, which include a very active library with many programs, before and after school care, a huge youth recreation program, the Recreation Complex and the Imagination Station Playground.
“All these facilities and programs offer and support a safe environment for our children,” says Simonetti. “Many of these programs would not be possible without the volunteers who run them. Just in our recreation program alone there are over 300 volunteers. The community gives back and because of that we have residents that are vested in their community. They go above and beyond to make this a safe and positive learning environment for our children.”
The police department gives back to the community as well.
The Roxbury Police Dept. has a special program in association with the PBA 311 known as “COPS CARE”. Active for eight years, this program has given $130,000 to needy families through fundraisers, such as whiffle ball tournaments, Flag Football vs. Roxbury Teachers, and other programs geared toward creating a bond between the community and police officers.
Recently, the Roxbury PBA had a Veteran Appreciation Night and raised more than $15,000 that was donated to local veterans and programs for veterans. “This is another example and bond that was initiated and developed by our officers and it is this bond that keeps the officers and community so strongly unified,” says Simonetti.
Roxbury’s approach has been recognized by national organizations like “America’s Promise Alliance 100 Best Communities for Young People” in 2011. “This was a great achievement and was because of the cohesiveness and teamwork of all of the employees and residents in our community.”
In 2013, Roxbury Township Parks were ranked 13th nationwide by “Coca-Cola National Park Contest.” “These achievements could not have been accomplished without the cohesiveness of our community,” says Simonetti.
As far as improvement, Simonetti says “I believe that if we continue our goals of increased community involvement we can improve our approach in fighting crime. The cost of technology has dropped dramatically compared to years ago and the ability to have your home or business alarmed and a camera system installed will provide the police department with evidence needed to solve your crime.”
Simonetti says the goals of the Roxbury police dept. “is to continue to improve on the communication between our residents and our department. An informed citizen is better equipped to protect themselves against crime. We implemented our Facebook page and it was greatly received by our residents and followers. The Township also has a Facebook page where all pertinent information regarding the town can be easily accessible. I want to build on that technology to provide information about crime trends and criminal activity to our community at a quicker pace. I want to also take this information and determine the best way to disseminate it to our residents who do not utilize the internet or technology.”
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