By DON STINE
Neptune has seen a 19.7 percent decrease in reportable crimes since 2015, police officials said during a special presentation at this week’s Township Committee meeting.
“The trend is that we have decreasing crime. There is a clear downward trend since 2011. We have outstanding personnel in the police department and they are trying to reduce crime,” Police Director Michael Bascom said.
The violent crime rate has remained pretty constant for the past 10 years at about 5.5 percent for each 1,000 people. But Bascom points out that the violent crime rate usually affects only a small number of people that are many times associated with drugs and gangs.
“Our overall crime rate, that most often affects the common resident, is decreasing,” he said.
The police department’s 64-page annual crime report is part of its “best management practices” and is an important component for becoming an accredited department under the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. Being a member of the association’s accreditation program, which needs to be renewed every three years, also lowers the department’s insurance costs.
Neptune, the third-largest community in square miles in Monmouth County, has 27,935 residents and 260 miles of roadway. There were 2,400 calls to the police department in 2016.
In 2016, the detective bureau handled 414 cases, resulting in 152 arrests, with the street crimes unit making 693 arrests, resulting in 942 criminal charges. There were three murders in the township last year but none, so far, this year. Five rapes were investigated last year, resulting in four arrests.
“We have increased patrols, our community outreach program, and the street crimes unit,” Bascom said.
He said that the township’s unemployment rate, once at 12 percent, in now below six percent.
“Which has some impact on crime,” he said.
The police department now has its biggest complement of officers, ever, at 79 employees. Seven new officers were hired in 2016 and seven officers were recently promoted. The department also obtained 41 ballistic vests using grant money.
In an attempt to bring the police department closer to the community, every police officer is given a personalized community outreach business card that they are to give to residents. The program is called the Friendship Force.
“We are going to track this. In effect, it makes every officer a community outreach officer,” Bascom said.
Chief James M. Hunt Jr. said the department has also stepped up internal affairs complaints and investigations.
“We are having continued growth in the police department and an overhaul of some police policies. Our primary goals are reducing crime and getting the community more involved. We want to develop and expand community outreach programs,” he said.
Both Bascom and Hunt urged residents to also get involved by reporting crimes.
“When you see something, say something. There are many ways to report a crime without giving your name. You can remain anonymous and we will react to this information,” Hunt said.
Police officials said that there are Apps and other ways to connect with the department online.
Neptune Midtown Urban Renaissance Corporation (MURC) President Dianna Harris said that using Apps to contact police and report crime is a good thing but that many poorer people in Neptune do not have, or use, such devices. Some residents are also still wary about making a direct telephone call to police.
“We still have to go even further so people feel confident enough to make that first step and contact police. The community needs to come up with ways to encourage that. We also need increased community programs and jobs creation. We need the churches involved, as well, and we still need input from the community,” she said.
Harris has been organizing public meetings and trying to create better relationships between police and residents.
“I think it was a good (police) report and things are going in the right direction. But there is still a lot of work to be done,” she said.