About 70 residents met with members of the Bridgewater Township Police Department recently to discuss how to keep their neighborhoods safe.
After a series of burglaries to residences and vehicles in the area of Vosseller Avenue and Thomae Park, residents banded together and requested that the police department speak with them about how they can maintain a safe community—and the officers were only too happy to oblige.
“Citizens were concerned, and they brought it to our attention to find out what they could do to minimize themselves as victims,” said Bridgewater Township Sgt. Luke Daley, who was the point person with the residents. “We talked about taking steps to make the community more safe.”
“We ran with that concept, and gave the residents insight and tips they could utilize for themselves and their community,” he added.
Basically, Daley said, there were one or two residences that were burglarized, as well as some cars, all spread out over a period of time. Plus, he said, there were some reports of suspicious people walking around.
“The resident came around to talk to us, and started talking about neighborhood watch,” he said. “We were kind of hesitant about supporting that because of problems that could happen, particularly with what we have seen across the United States.”
Instead, Daley said, they came up with a Citizen Awareness program, and made some signs within the community about “Community Awareness.”
“They did a good job with that, and asked for our support and approval,” he said.
Bridgewater Township Lt. Al Nicaretta said the community is very tight-knit, and they were looking for guidelines about how to report crimes and what to do in the case of suspicious activity.
“The meeting was to brief them on what to do when you see suspicious activity, what the protocol should be,” he said. “We say to call the police right then and there, and gather as much information as possible, like the license plate number of the vehicle.”
“These are things citizens may not be aware of right away,” he added.
The concerns from the community, Daley said, included what the police department was doing about the rash of burglaries, and how they handle these kinds of investigations, which they explained.
“We explained the reasons why we take certain steps, and they were more receptive to understanding why we do what we do,” he said. “We take a proactive approach and develop a certain plan to implement.”
“Sometimes we can’t release information to the community because of ongoing investigations, and they were receptive to that too,” he added.
But, Daley said, they did explain what residents can do themselves in these kinds of situations.
“We are working together to resolve issues within these areas,” he said. “They do have a tight-knit group, they are all friends and working well within the community.”
Among the tips, Daley said, are letting neighbors know about suspicious activity, making sure vehicles are always locked and ensuring that windows are rolled up.
“These are things people forget because they become complacent,” he said. “We do have a safe community, and we want to keep it that way.”
Bridgewater Township Police Chief Richard Borden said this isn’t a neighborhood watch group, but it’s an organized formed group that has been given training by the police department.
Still, Borden said, there are certain guidelines to follow, and they are not creating organized neighborhood watch groups.
“We don’t do citizen patrols, we discourage that,” he said. “We don’t want citizens confronting suspicious people, and we have told them that.”
Daley said the residents were very receptive to these explanations.
“They know the difference between regular non-emergency calls and 911,” he said. “We told them that if it’s just a question or concern, call the regular line. If you see a suspicious vehicle, call, and if you can, get a license plate or person description.”
Borden said this was a very motivated group of people working to keep their neighborhood safe.
“If neighbors or a group has a specific concern, it works,” he said. “We had a spurt of crime there for a short period of time, and they were motivated. We haven’t had spurts of crimes in other areas of town, and we have done this before when certain groups were targeted for burglaries.”
Borden said they would love to do these kinds of programs with other neighborhoods, particularly if there is interest.
“If we find out and there’s interest, we will make ourselves available,” he said.
Nicaretta said this program would have been part of the department’s community policing unit, but it was disbanded because of budget cutbacks.
“We wish we could spend more time with this, but obviously with all the cutbacks it’s hard to do,” he said. “Any time we have a partnership with the community and police, it’s always a positive outlook experience for both halves. We learn so much from them, and they learn so much from us.”
Borden said this kind of programming is actually really positive for the community.
“Sometimes we don’t get face-to-face feedback, there is no area to walk the beat in town,” he said. “This is a very good outlet for both parties. We start getting more personal interaction with the people in town.”