MENNA’S PLAN TO MAKE THE TOWN SAFER
Mayor Pasquale Menna and Police Chief Mark Fitzgerald continue to stick to the information blackout imposed on them by by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office last week in the wake of the shootings at the Montgomery Terrace public housing units on Tilton Avenue.
But with the caveat that he couldn’t address specifics about the case, Menna last night unveiled a series of initiatives aimed at quelling crime throughout town but particularly on the West Side.
Among the measures he outlined at last night’s bimonthly borough council meeting:
The hiring of two additional police officers and the hiring of three new civilian police dispatchers, freeing up officers who’d been filling in on the radio desk, bringing total staffing in the department to 43 employees.
The institution of a “park and walk” program, whereby cops will get out of their patrol cars and walk all neighborhoods in town.
“Aggressive” enforcement by police of no-trespassing and anti-loitering policies at Montgomery Terrace and Evergreen Terrace, which together comprise about 100 units of subsidized housing.
“The issue here is not public housing. The issue is not Montgomery Terrace,” Menna said, before outlining a host of security measures he said had been or would soon be implemented at the borough Housing Authority’s two complexes and throughout town.
One idea that appeared to have little or no traction: the creation of a West Side police substation. It was barely mentioned last night.
Instead, Menna and Fitzgerald were clearly more focused on building on the existing base of police personnel and a return to some old-style policing.
Additional patrols have already been instituted, Menna said. The Housing Authority will be among the stops for new police officers as part of their orientation tours. Fitzgerald will hold monthly meetings with residents of Evergreen Terrace and Montgomery Terrace.
The borough will also ask the Monmouth County Sheriff to host a handgun amnesty program here under which illegal arms could be turned in without the owner facing possession charges.
The meat of the plan, though, appears to be a rebuilding of a patrol force that has shrunk in recent years.
Four new patrol officers will be hired, Fitzgerald said, two of them to replace officers who are retiring: Deputy Chief Ernest Van pelt and Lt. Morris Collier.
Two new civilian dispatchers have been hired, and a third will soon be on board, said Fitzgerald. Because of attrition in that job, officers who would normally have been out on patrol have had to fill in on dispatch, he said.
In addition, a detective on loan to the prosecutors’ office as part of a periodic rotation will be returned to borough duty soon.
The staffing additions will bring the department’s employment back up to 43, a number that Fitzgerald acknowledged is “high,” as some critics have maintained, if viewed against the size of the borough’s resident population of about 12,000 (though Menna believes it may be closer to 15,000). “But if you consider the 70,000 to 80,000 people here during the daytime, it’s low,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald told redbankgreen that he was requesting a budget increase for his department of “a couple of hundred thousand dollars” above last year’s allocation to pay for the changes. The current salary allotment for the department is $4.08 million.
To address rental-housing overcrowding that contributes to the department’s workload, Menna said the borough would publish the names of landlords who’ve “been convicted of overcrowding” in municipal court. He said the “greatest offenders are out-of-towners whose names regularly appear in the society columns.”
“We’re doing everything possible to maintain our community as a good community,” Menna said, adding that despite last week’s shootings and other incidents in recent months, the overall crime rate as well as the violent crime rate are both down this year from the comparable 2006 period.
Menna said he has been unable to speak about the Montgomery Terrace shootings under direction of First Assistant Prosecutor Peter Warshaw, whose office is heading the search for suspected guman Anthony Sims. Menna, echoing law enforcement personnel, said “there’s a specific law enforcement reason” for the silence.
Ten days after the shooting, the shooting victims, said to be of two adult brothers, have yet to be been publicly identified; even their medical conditions have not been released since the Nov. 27, when they were both reported to be in stable but critical condition.
Menna quipped after last night’s borough council meeting that he thought he saw someone from the prosecutor’s office at the rear of the council chambers, apparently there to take notes on what was revealed.
A candlelight vigil is planned for tomorrow night at Montgomery Terrace. Participants will gather at the Pilgrim Baptist Church at 8:30p and drive to the Tilton Avenue complex for he event.