By Karen Zautyk
The numbers are in, and the news is more than good. The Town of Kearny’s Uniform Crime Report Index for 2012 shows an 18% decrease in crimes compared with 2011.
That represents a 10-year low.
This, despite a Police Department operating with a significantly reduced force.
Currently, the KPD has 98 members, Police Chief John Dowie noted. Ten years ago, the force numbered 122.
In a statement issued with the report March 12, Mayor Alberto Santos recognized the manpower problem, noting that “additional resources would be allocated to the department in 2013, including additional surveillance cameras at the road entry points and additional staffing.”
Using 2010 census figures showing Kearny with a population of 40,684, the current staffing level translates to one officer to protect and serve every 420 residents.
Offering a startling comparison, Dowie told The Observer that, 10 years ago, the number of “jobs”–calls for service–requiring KPD response totalled approximately 18,000 annually. The yearly average now, he said, is 30,000.
Calls for service include not only crimes, but the more mundane: blocked driveways, barking dogs, damaged autos, juvenile complaints, municipal ordinance violations, mutual aid, towed vehicles, nuisance complaints, lost and missing persons/runaways, suspicious persons, suspicious noise, loud group/ party/music, downed trees and wires, double-parked cars, abandoned/suspicious vehicles, fender-benders, car alarms and lock-outs (home and vehicle).
“To name a few,” Dowie said.
“To keep up with that volume of calls for service and still come up with the same amount of arrests [as the previous year] is quite something,” the chief said.
According to Crime Report Index, 1,340 arrests were made in Kearny in 2012, compared with 1,352 in 2011.
A majority of the persons arrested were not residents of Kearny but instead came from neighboring municipalities in Essex and Hudson counties, noted the news release issued by the mayor and Town Council.
“Our highest mission as public officials is ensuring the public safety of our citizens,” Santos commented.
“While overall crime is down, the statistics show that we must remain vigilant against crime, especially because of the increasing number of nonresidents committing crimes in Kearny,” he said.
As for the crimes themselves, the report, compiled under the jurisdiction of the N.J. State Crime Analysis Unit, showed drops in: aggravated assaults (from 52 in 2011 to 44 in 2012); simple assaults (from 409 to 331); burglaries (from 184 to 123); larcenies (from 773 to 633); arson (from six to two), and motor vehicle thefts (from 172 to 131). There were three rapes, the same stat as the previous year, and no homicides.
The single category showing an increase was robbery, from 31 in 2011 to 53 last year. This, the town’s statement said, “was primarily attributable” to robberies of iPods and smart phones.
In 2011, Dowie said, there had been a “significant increase” in domestic violence, which is not a specific category included in the compilation but rather is reflected in other statistics. In 2012, “domestic violence went down, so simple assaults were down,” the chief said. However, he added, “we still have an average of about 500 domestic violence reports per year.”
As for the overall 18% crime decrease, Dowie said, “One of the biggest things to which I can attribute the drop in crime, especially thefts (larcenies) and burglaries, is a very strong drug-crime initiative. Both our patrol officers and our narcotics squad have made it a priority.”
“If you address drug crime, the other crimes — like vehicle theft, burglary, shoplifting — go down,” the chief explained, terming 2012 “a banner year” for Kearny regarding the arrests of drug offenders.
Discussing the KPD staffing, Dowie — a lifelong Kearny resident who has been police chief since 1998 — noted that, following statewide buyouts and downsizing that began in the mid-’90s, two years ago the new fiscal crisis started to have its effects.
There was “a massive exodus” due to retirements and attrition, he explained. In 2012 alone, the department lost 13 officers.
Despite the reduction, the department works toward “proactive policing,” which, Dowie said, “is what keeps crime down.” Part of that is “a presence on the street,” he said. “You have no way of knowing how many crimes are deterred because someone sees an officer in a marked car.”
The chief called the 18% crime decrease, and the 10-year low, “a tribute to the officers themselves and their work ethic.”
A significantly smaller force, and the attendant increase in work pressures on the remaining officers, could lead to lowered morale and cops becoming “burned out.”
But, Dowie said, “I’ll put Kearny up against anybody in officer performance.
“I can’t say enough about the people I have left and the job they go out and do every day.”