Wanted: watchful neighbors

Photo by Karen Zautyk Nutley Police Chief Tom Strumolo
Photo by Karen Zautyk
Nutley Police Chief Tom Strumolo


By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


The blue-and-white “Neighborhood Watch” signs have been a part of the Nutley streetscape for years, but your correspondent must plead ignorance as to what exactly the program entailed. And who participated. And how it worked.

I am certain I am not alone in this, especially considering the influx of residents drawn to the community by large new apartment complexes, particularly on the east side of town.

The problem of such complexes–be they rental or condos–in any community, is the anonymity they can foster. Residents may nod to each other, and even know some neighbors’ names, but that sense of “neighborliness” more common on streets of one or two-family homes takes longer to develop, if it develops at all.

Still, despite growth and changes in demographics, Nutley has avoided that bane of other New Jersey towns which have devolved to “bedroom communities.” Nutley remains friendly and family-oriented and welcoming to newcomers, and that has much to do not only with its various clubs and organizations, but the municipal departments themselves, which are always reaching out to the residents.

A prime example came the other day in the following email:

“Dear Nutley Resident: “The Nutley Police Department is organizing our new Neighborhood Watch program to be launched in January 2014. Neighborhood Watch is an all-volunteer group of Nutley citizens who work in partnership with the Nutley Police Department to educate the public about crime-prevention measures and to act as our extended eyes and ears in your neighborhood. Mayor Petracco is also encouraging Nutley residents to get involved and help keep our community safe.

“Please call 973-284-4947, or email tstrumolojr@nutleypd. com if you are interested in becoming our partner to keep Nutley safe.”

It was signed by Police Chief Thomas J. Strumolo. The key phrase in the missive: “becoming our partner to keep Nutley safe.” It’s a true partnership between the citizenry and law enforcement. But it involves nothing — repeat, nothing — like a certain “Stand Your Ground” Florida Neighborhood Watch case that may be on your mind.

In Nutley, Neighborhood Watch volunteers do not go out on patrol. “We do not expect anyone to take any action,” Chief Strumolo told us.

The vols’ job is simply to be alert, to be the “extended eyes and ears” of the cops and to contact law enforcement if something seems amiss. It’s the police who will do the enforcing. But the civilian contribution can be immense.

“We’ve [the Police Department] have had a great relationship with the community, and I’m looking to expand on it,” Strumolo noted. “Mayor Petracco is on the same page as I am,” he added, “and he’s encouraging the effort” to renew and expand the program.

For Neighborhood Watch, “We are looking to recruit as many residents as possible,” Strumolo said. “It’s a team effort [between police and civilians] to continue to have a safe community.”

A foundation of that effort is to “keep our residents as informed as possible,” the chief said. That info can range from burglary-prevention tips to advice on avoiding email scams. “Just getting the word out is important.”

Due to computer technology, there’s a lot of fraud out there, especially from miscreants “phishing” for personal information that can be used for identity theft or monetary theft. Folks who are less technically savvy are easy prey.

Senior citizens have been particular targets, but as the scamsters get more sophisticated, just about anyone is vulnerable now.

Once the new Neighborhood Watch program is underway, it will include informational meetings “educating residents on how to protect themselves,” Strumolo noted.

The topics will range from how to avoid falling victim to identity theft to how to protect their homes from burglaries, etc., etc.

The Nutley PD will also be using the internet as a crime-fighting weapon, disseminating information and advice.

“We can be in touch with everybody,” the chief said.

This will be done through email crime alerts — such as a recent one alerting residents to phony “town Water Department workers” who were attempting to gain entry to homes, the better to commit thefts.

(The standard advice is: Don’t let anyone into your house without checking their ID. And even then, keep them outside until you verify that ID with the Police Department or the township department/company they claim to represent.)

The PD also has a Twitter page and one on Facebook (www.facebook.com/nutley- PD), where residents can get the latest alerts and updates.

For example, if there are car break-ins in a certain area some night, “we can post instant information on this,” Strumolo said.

(By the way, the chief reiterated advice we have heard from law enforcement in other towns: “Please lock your car doors. And don’t leave valuables in your vehicles.”)

The department is also working on crime-mapping software, which the public can access from any web browser. Residents could see if a certain area is being targeted for burglaries or car thefts or other crimes.

As for the Neighborhood Watch volunteers, the hope is to eventually set up block captains, who will be the contact person to whom neighbors can report their concerns.

The vols will not be asked to devote specific amounts of times, but just to be vigilant and help with the email distributions.

The organizational meeting for the improved and expanded Neighborhood Watch will be held Jan. 14 at Town Hall. You can sign up that night or in advance by contacting Strumolo at the phone number or email listed earlier in the story.

But whether you join or not, Strumolo has a request for all Nutleyites regarding crime prevention and awareness and keeping Nutley a safe place to live and raise a family:

“If you notice something odd, tell the police. If, for instance, a car looks suspicious, get a description, a license plate. Anytime you think that something doesn’t look right, call the police.”

“I’ve heard people say, ‘I didn’t want to bother you.’

No one should ever feel they’re ‘bothering’ us. It’s what we’re here for.”

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