RED BANK COPS BACK ON THE BEAT

Patrolman George Travostino walking Broad Street Thursday afternoon. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

George Travostino has been getting a lot of double-takes lately.

Like all patrol-duty cops in the 40-officer Red Bank police department, Travostino has been spending more time out of his car in recent months, doing what he calls “old-school” beat-walking on the borough’s thoroughfares. And people don’t know what to make of it when they first see him, he tells redbankgreen.

“Some of the older people are a little…” he said, raising his eyebrows to illustrate, “and the young kids, they’ve never even seen it.”

Initial reactions aside, though, the reception appears to have been universally welcoming.

“I’ve been clamoring for this for years,” said Ceaar’s Creations owner Joe Cerasa, as Travostino stepped into Broad Street in front of his jewelry store to give directions to a motorist Thursday. “I’m going to call the chief and thank him. This is extremely important.”

Beat-walking returned in January at the direction of police Chief Steve McCarthy, now in his third year in command.

Actually, it’s not fully old-school, in the custom having an officer spend all or most of his shift pounding the pavement, as McCarthy’s father did “for six years straight” as a Jersey City cop.

Rather, “each officer, each shift, has to park the car and walk for a period of time” in a designated zone along Broad Street, Shrewsbury Avenue, the train station, borough parks or elsewhere, McCarthy said. “It’s every officer, every shift.”

The men and women in blue are also required to visit at least one business or institution. How long they spend on foot, and when, is at their discretion.

The aim is to create a presence and sense of connection that is not possible when cops stay in their cars, McCarthy said. There’s also the practical work of updating a department database with the names and contact information of store owners and personnel for use in emergencies, he said.

“It’s just another way to have an officer interact with the community and show their face,” said Borough Council President Art  Murphy.

McCarthy said he was required to walk when he joined the department in 1986, but that over the ensuing years, officers  became more reliant on their patrol cars, and the custom faded out.

What’s different now is the commitment and the personnel management of a force that has been down two officers from its peak of three years ago, said Murphy. McCarthy, he said, “really motivates” his officers, and the cops, in turn, have embraced the program.

So have merchants.

“I’ve been here 17 years, so I know the cops, but with all the new stores, it’s a good chance for the owners to know the cops, and for the cops to know the owners,” said Vinnie Woods, manager of the Love Lane tuxedo shop, also on Broad.

McCarthy said he’ll evaluate the success of the program after six months. “But my instinct is that there is absolutely a benefit to it,” he said. “As you walk, you hear and see things that you wouldn’t in a car.”

The officers, he said, “enjoy getting out. OK, maybe ‘enjoy’ is a little strong.”

But on a day like Thursday, with temperatures rising to the low-70s, “you can’t beat it,” Travostino said.

Assuming the borough is able to bring on two, unarmed special officers, the department also hopes to  put two officers on bikes again this summer, Murphy said. The bike patrols weren’t possible last year because of budget issues, he said.