Chief: Fewer Cops Mean Less Services, Longer Waits
While officers will continue to respond to life-threatening emergencies and investigate major crimes, Lawrence Township Police Dept. no longer has enough manpower to be able to respond to all minor offenses or visit schools to teach drug abuse prevention.
While Lawrence Township police will continue to respond to life-threatening emergencies and investigate significant crimes just as they always have, the department has lost so many officers that it no longer has enough manpower to send officers out to document minor offenses or investigate crimes that have little chance of being solved, Police Chief Daniel Posluszny told Lawrenceville Patch during an interview last Thursday.
Officers also will no longer be available to teach DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] and bus safety in the schools, he confirmed.
“We are down to 58 officers as I speak today. We’ve lost 12 people now in a little over three years. We’ve been reevaluating what we do and what we’re going to do and we’re still continuing to reevaluate it,” the chief said, noting that changes to how the department operates have already begun.
Several police positions were eliminated as part of the municipal budget-balancing layoffs that took effect last week and four Lawrence Township officers under threat of being laid off recently transferred to the Hamilton Township Police Department. And additional police layoffs are possible under one of the options put forth to balance the 2013 municipal budget.
Posluszny confirmed that the department has lowered its minimum staffing requirements, though in the interests of officers’ safety he declined to offer specifics about how many officers will be on the job at any given time. “Staffing levels are lower. We’re going to have less officers working. Response times are going to go up for certain [non-priority] calls,” he said.
“We’re using officers in different ways than we probably have in the past,” he added. Some detectives, for example, have had their schedules rearranged and are now working night shifts to help patrol the township.
The police department has always triaged the calls it receives from the public, with the most serious and time-sensitive calls for help being given top priority. That sorting of calls based on their urgency and severity will likely be more noticeable now given the diminished manpower of the police department.
“In years past we were so focused on service to the public, we’d always send an officer. We just don’t have the resources now to do that,” the chief said. “What we’re going to look at is, is there a danger to persons? That’s first and foremost. We have to respond. Is there a danger to property? That’s second.
“If someone calls about a bat in their house – and you get those types of calls, because you’re a 24-hour service – depending on the circumstances we may not go,” he continued. “If the bat’s attacking the homeowner, yes, we’re going. If not, if it’s just a bat in the house, we’ll advise the resident to close the door to the room the bat’s in and open a window. The bat’s eventually going to get out.”
In the case of some non-violent crimes like criminal mischief, theft from an unlocked vehicle, credit card fraud and identity theft, an officer will no longer automatically be dispatched to document the crime and the victim will instead be directed to fill out an online police report through the township’s website.
“We’re going to increase usage of online reporting,” the chief said. “If someone reports that their car’s been entered – which unfortunately we get so many of, unlocked cars entered – if they don’t want to wait for an officer to come out, we’re going to ask them to file online.”
Such a report is generally needed by a victim wishing to make a claim to his/her insurance company. The department will then review each report to determine if follow-up by an officer or detective is warranted.
“When we get a report of a crime now, we’re going to evaluate its solvability. If there’s no suspect and no additional information we may not follow it up at that time. We can’t take the detectives’ time to do it,” Posluszny said. “[In the past] we would follow up almost every indictable offense reported. A detective would check with the victim. We would leave the case open for a time to see if a lead develops. We just can’t do that anymore. We’re not going to be keeping cases open. Now, if we receive information to solve a case in the future, obviously, we’re going to reopen it and investigate it.”
The chief said an officer will still be sent out in non-priority situations where the victim has no ability to file an online police report or if the victim insists on seeing an officer in person.
“For a senior citizen who doesn’t have access to a computer, an officer will have to go there,” he explained. “If someone insists, we will send an officer but the wait time might be considerably longer than it has been in the past.”
He also noted that “we’re in the process of trying to get a kiosk here in the lobby of the police station to utilize for reporting purposes. If somebody comes here and they don’t want to wait they can actually file right online here.” Since the police department’s records bureau has also lost some staff in recent years, he said, efforts are also underway to implement a system in the near future whereby members of the public can request and obtain accident reports and other police records via email.
Police officers will no longer respond to minor medical emergencies, the chief said. Calls that would typically get a response from a paramedic crew – such as respiratory distress or a heart attack – will still get a priority response from a police officer, but an officer will no longer respond to ambulance calls that are not of a life-threatening nature.
Similarly, reports of stray dogs and other animal control calls where the animal in question poses no threat to anyone will no longer warrant a police response, he said.
“We’re not doing DARE in the schools,” Posluszny said, confirming an end to the department’s longtime participation in the drug abuse prevention program. According to the police department’s 2011 annual report, last year 350 fifth-grade students from Lawrence Intermediate School and St. Ann’s School benefited from the DARE program taught by juvenile bureau Detectives Scott Caloiaro and Dave Burns.
“In years past’ we’ve done bus safety for the schools. We’ll assist the schools in developing lesson plans, but we’re not going to have an officer present,” he said.
Also ending, he said, will be the regular visits that Detectives Caloiaro and Burns made to interact with students at the elementary schools and intermediate school, so they can focus on other police responsibilities. He said police officers will continue to show a presence at Lawrence Middle School and Lawrence High School as needed.
Posluszny said the department is trying to streamline some of its internal policies and procedures to improve efficiency.
Compared to 2010, “major crimes” in Lawrence Township increased about 24 percent in 2011, with burglaries alone going up 41 percent, according to statistics that were released in February.
During last week's interview, the chief offered some statistics about crime in Lawrence Township during the first seven months of this year.
From Jan. 1 through July 31, 2012, he said, there were a total of 600 index crimes reported in the township, compared to 695 during the first seven months of 2011.
Index crimes are those crimes documented in the annual Uniform Crime Report published by the New Jersey State Police and the FBI – homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Burglaries have gone up, from 54 during the first seven months of 2011 to 65 from Jan. 1 through July 31 of this year, but thefts (485 to 407), robberies (17 to 12) and assaults (121 to 102) have all gone down, according to Posluszny.
The chief said the police department remains committed to keeping residents safe but he urged residents to take an active part in safeguarding their community.
“If you see anything suspicious or out of place, call us,” he said.
He said anyone with questions or concerns about the police department’s new procedures can call the police station at (609) 896-1111 and ask for the chief’s office. He said he or one of the department’s lieutenants will return all calls.
- July 6, 2011: "Lawrence Township Police Study Released to Public"