By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s crime rate saw a sharp drop in 2019, police Chief Darren McConnell tells redbankgreen.
In addition, incidents in which officers used some degree of force in dealing with the public were at an “all-time low,” and none were found unwarranted, he said.
Overall, the total number of Uniform Crime Reporting offenses, such as homicide, rape and robbery, fell 20 percent from 2018, to 227 reported incidents, McConnell said.
After one homicide in 2018 – the stabbing death of a 26-year-old volunteer firefighter Andrew Hill – the borough had no killings in 2019.
Four rapes were reported in 2019, after a year with none, McConnell said. Last year saw declines in the numbers of robberies (four, down from six) and assaults (92, down from 119), while 14 burglaries were reported both years, he said.
At 109, the number of thefts was down sharply, from 140, a big factor in the overall drop because thefts account for about half of all the borough’s UCR crimes.
No arsons have been reported since 2014, McConnell said.
The downturn continued a long-term trend in the borough, McConnell said in an interview Friday. It also tracks with the the general track in the United States, he said.
But while “20 percent is a significant drop,” McConnell expressed wariness at reading too much into the numbers.
“We never take credit for crime drops, because crime increases for reasons beyond our control, too,” he said. The number of murders, sexual assaults and robberies are typically in the single digits, so even one or two cases can have a large effect on a percentage basis, he said.
Moreover, thefts include everything from stolen bikes to embezzlement, and “a lot of that’s not really preventable by anything we’re going to do,” McConnell said.
A report by a Red Bank resident of a hacking theft from his or her bank account would count as a borough crime, even though the perpetrator could be overseas, he noted. It doesn’t “tell the story of what’s going on in the town on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Calls for service were essentially unchanged in 2019, and the number of traffic summonses issued continued at the approximate five-year average of 5,500 per year, McConnell said.
In a report to the mayor and council earlier this month, McConnell also said the department’s use-of-force reports and internal affairs complaints were “at an all-time low and significantly reduced from prior years.”
Under a 2001 order of the New Jersey Attorney General, police departments are required to complete use-of-force reports any time physical force is used in an arrest. The term encompasses everything from a cop firmly grabbing a subject’s wrist to a tussle that ends up with one or more people on the ground. (See definitions of the types of force here.)
Borough police reported 18 use-of-force incidents in 2019, compared to the prior five-year average of approximately 30, McConnell said.
In late 2018, McConnell told redbankgreen that he and other department officials review every use-of-force filing, and in his five years as chief, had not seen any instances in which the use was unreasonable. That was also the case in 2019, he said.
“Probably 90 percent of our use-of-force is related to compliance holds,” McConnell said. If there’s a closing-time fight outside a bar involving multiple participants, “almost every time, that’s going to lead to a use-of-force by our officers, because you can’t break up a fight without putting hands on somebody, typically,” he said.
No 2019 cases prompted either an excessive-force complaint by an arrest subject or an internal affairs investigation related to force, McConnell said.
Five internal affairs complaints were filed by shift commanders or McConnell himself in 2019, half the number typically filed in years past, he said. Of the five investigated in 2019, four were “sustained,” meaning some violation of department policy was found to have occurred.
But all “were relatively minor in nature and resulted in either minor discipline or re-training and counseling,” McConnell wrote. Most such complaints relate to officer “demeanor” on vehicle stops, he said.
He credited the lower use-of-force and internal probe numbers to a convergence of factors, including now-yearly de-escalation training of officers; “outstanding supervision” by sergeants and lieutenants; and “certain amount of good fortune.”
Taken together, “these outcomes demonstrate that our officers have been and continue to conduct themselves professionally and in accordance with policy in the vast majority of circumstances,” McConnell wrote.
Here’s the report: RBPD Report 010820