"Partnership." That's what it will take to combat a wave of crime that has hit Jacoby Street and environs in Maplewood—a partnership between the community and Township personnel.
This was the message delivered by Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca to a gathering of residents at the DeHart Community Center on Tuesday night. "If this is 'Let the town do it' and everyone closes their doors, it's not going to work," said DeLuca to an assemblage of about 60 community members and 20 Town officials and employees including police and fire officials, the town prosecutor, health officer and welfare officer, as well as elected officials.
The meeting was lively, with lots of give and take between residents and speakers. Despite residents' frustration with crime—one attendee had experienced a home break-in just the day before—attendees were remarkably complimentary of the performance of the police. "The police have been responsive," said one resident. "The response has been great," said another. But both of these residents lamented the fact that, despite police responsiveness, the wave of crimes and attempted crimes was continuing.
Throughout the evening, hand after hand went up as neighbors related tales of flood light wires being cut, cars being entered or damaged, youth and police running through backyards.
To start the meeting, DeLuca acknowledged that a wave of crime in the area had brought the Town and residents to this moment. DeLuca noted crimes on Jacoby, Harding, Brown, Lee Court and 44th Street. Menzel Avenue residents were there to add their street to the list.
DeLuca then introduced Township Administrator Joseph Manning, Assistant Township Admistrator Jean Plantin, Vice Mayor Kathy Leventhal, Committeeman Jerry Ryan, Health Officer Robert Roe, Fire Chief Joseph Richardella, Welfare Director Sandra Bartlett, Chief of Police Robert Cimino and Prosecutor Annette DePalma. (Committeeman Lester Lewis-Powder joined the meeting later and Public Works Director Eric Burbank was attending a Planning Board meeting.)
DeLuca noted that a 15-person leadership group first met on July 28 to discuss issues in the neighborhood. "We wanted to do an intervention, but also do more information to you to know whom to contact." The first step, the group decided, was increased police presence. The second was to bring in other department heads to go door to door to disseminate information and perform code enforcement.
A letter from the Mayor was sent to 500 residents on August 20 and a public safety awareness event including police and fire personnel—and organized by Prosecutor Annette DePalma—took place on September 11. DePalma said that as many as 40 residents attended the public safety awareness fair which took place on Jacoby Street.
The man of the evening was Chief of Police Robert Cimino. Cimino brought seven officers to address questions and outlined steps the police were taking, services that police could provide, and a checklist for securing your home.
First, Cimino explained that, in response to the crime wave, the police had created a subdistrict centered around Jacoby Street with its own dedicated patrol car. "We are not waiting for the phone call to come in. We are assigned to areas of town to get to you quickly," Cimino said. "But your phone call is the best way to get us their faster." Cimino said residents could use 911 or the regular police line—973-762-3400. Cimino noted the police website and email were useful for follow-up but not for emergency contact.
Police were also using road safety checkpoints and speed enforcement to combat neighborhood. "For some reason, people without proper inspections or insurance are often involved in major crime," said Cimino. Cimino said that plain clothes officers and detectives were also in the area. In addition, crimes were being logged on computers, hot spots were being identified, and police were being deployed accordingly—much like the Compstat system pioneered by the NYPD in the 1990s.
Cimino stressed two services that residents could and should utilize: home safety audits by the police and neighborhood watches. Residents can call Crime Prevention Services to have their home surveyed to determine how to make it safer (973-762-3400, ext. 7620). In addition, Cimino felt strongly that neighborhood watch groups were key to combating and defeating this crime wave, a belief shared by DeLuca. "We need your help badly," said Cimino. "You know who belongs in your neighborhood and what is going on."
Later in the meeting Cimino added, "We want to get back to the days when you knew your neighbors." He said neighborhood watch groups helped residents with exchanging phone numbers and license plate numbers. "We will send an officer out. You provide a home to meet in and block captains," said Cimino. The Chief said that there was an officer assigned to the task of organizing watches and that each watch has its own assigned officer; however, "that officer is a conduit but not your emergency contact."
Throughout the evening, officials repeatedly asked residents to call the Town (973-762-8120) or police. "Who thinks they pay too little in taxes?" asked DeLuca to appreciative laughter. "You are paying for it. Use what you are paying for. Don't ever feel that you can't call."
Township Administrator Joseph Manning and Health Officer Robert Roe stressed quality of life issues and the "broken windows" theory that distressed properties promote crime. Each asked that residents reports deteriorated properties and code violations. They promised that the Town would follow up—whether for uncut grass or crumbling roofs. Manning repeatedly referred residents to the Township website: www.twp. maplewood.nj.us. There he said, you can click on "Request a Service" at the top of the right-hand column. Manning said that requests can be made anonymously.
Fire Chief Joseph Richardella said the Fire Department was available to perform free home fire safety inspections and "would be happy to put up smoke detectors and put in batteries" for those who could not do so themselves—included the elderly and those with disabilities. Richardella also asked residents to help with code enforcement: "There are illegal apartments in basements coming up on Jacoby. There are too many people in homes without enough egress."
DeLuca ultimately opened the meeting to questions. Residents wanted information on a laundry list of items from what was being done to ensure students from out of town were not going to school in district, to what is the process to keep local kids out of the system for first-time offenses, to what it takes to issue a summons in instances of noise complaints. Others wanted to know about security cameras, how to get energy-efficient lightbulbs, defending themselves with firearms in their own homes, installing grates on windows, adding foot patrols, instituting curfews, banning 24-hour businesses, organizing a prayer walk, and adding speed bumps. Patch will provide more information on many of these topics in follow-up articles.
DeLuca did warn residents that increased police and code enforcement was a double-edged sword. "It will impact you!" said DeLuca. "So put your seatbelt on, have your papers, cut your grass."
If there is one takeaway from all this, DeLuca said, it is, "We want everyone in Maplewood to know there is one Maplewood. Services are being delivered to all and everyone has to be involved." DeLuca again invoked the idea of partnership: "We need you for it to work. You are the eyes and ears."
At no time during the meeting did a resident or official bring up the homicide in an apartment at Jacoby and Boyden on Sunday morning. When asked, one resident later said, "That's a completely different thing."
After the meeting one 15-year resident of Hughes Street told Patch, "This was a great meeting."
Upon the Town's request, no pictures were taken of residents at the meeting, nor were names recorded in order to promote participation and a free exchange of information.