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Report: Township P.D. Is 'Top Heavy'

–Matthew Hersh

An independent study examining the efficacy and quality of the Princeton Township Police Department sent a not-so-veiled message to Township Committee Monday: the force could be cut back.

The sobering report came at a time when crime activity in the greater Princeton area is on the rise, but in Princeton Township, which was cited as being one of the safest municipalities in the nation, the police department may be too crowded for its own good.

The report was compiled and submitted to Committee by Carroll Buracker & Associates, Inc, the Virginia-based public safety consulting group employed by the Township to offer an objective overview of the force.

The 400-page report, based on an 18-week study that included interviews with staff, officers, administration, as well as rides while officers were on-call, called for the removal of one lieutenant, two sergeants, one detective, and one Community Action Team (CAT), composed of three officers.

The report did not, however, call for the removal of street patrolman in a department that was deemed to be of high quality by Mr. Buracker.

The consultant used a "baseline staffing" model that essentially reduces the number of staff within the department. In this case, seven positions would be removed from the force, all in department personnel.

Township Committee did not offer any indication that they would act on Mr. Buracker's recommendations.

"Every healthy organization needs a periodic review," said Committeeman Bill Enslin, who spoke after the hour-long presentation that was attended by nearly 25 officers. "Assumptions will not be made until we read the entire report," added Mayor Phyllis Marchand.

That said, Mr. Buracker labeled the department as "top heavy," and recommended a new structure. Among the areas of concern were that there were too many staff officers, dispatchers, and administrative sergeant positions. The consultant went on to laud the municipality for having a low crime rate, and the department for having high confidence and good rapport. Mr. Buracker cited a statistic that put the Township's crime index at 9.65 compared to the Borough's 34.31. In the Township, there are 2.1 officers per 1000 residents and in the Borough, there are 2.38 officers per 1000 residents.

Mr. Buracker attributed the quality of life in the Township to the ability of the police officers and dispatchers, not to the number of officers working within the department.

"The question we're often asked is if there is any positive correlation between the number of officers you have and the number of index crimes and I can say it's absolute zero: there is no correlation," he said.

One of the most common indicators of safety in municipalities is the crime rate, which is determined by how many index crimes occurred per 1000 people. Index crimes include: murder; rape; robbery; aggravated assault; burglary; larceny; and motor vehicle theft. The Township has one of the lowest crime rates in the U.S., Mr. Buracker said: "That is one of the lowest that I've seen since I've been in the business." A department-wide plan is also needed, Mr. Buracker said, adding that an external audit of the entire department is needed. He also recommended formalized crime analysis – unorthodox for a relatively small police department, but nevertheless recommended.

Mr. Enslin said Committee would "carefully" review the recommendations with "a lot of thought and a lot of discussion in context of continuing the police department's excellent service to the community," while enhancing efficiency. Mr. Buracker said the ratio of recommended cuts was not high related to comparable communities, and that cutbacks represent a "blueprint" that the Township can pursue over the next five years. That blueprint, he said, focuses on over 100 other recommendations, including suggestions for equipment, facilities, and fleet.

"It's not unusual for us to identify personnel in a police department," Mr. Buracker said.

Township Committee will meet this evening, June 29, with Princeton Borough Council at 8 p.m. at Township Hall to discuss another Buracker study, this time examining joint dispatch services between the two municipalities' police departments.

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