The Princeton Police Department’s (PPD) 2013 Report, its first since consolidation, reveals Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) crime statistics for Princeton that are 72 percent lower than the state average for crimes of violence and 50 percent higher than the state average when it comes to property crime.
According to the 45-page report from Captain Nick Sutter as acting chief of the department, people in Princeton have a one in 32 chance of being a crime victim and a one in 1,235 chance of being a victim of a violent crime. The municipality is safer than 37.9 percent of other cities in the nation and its crime rate is less than 29 percent of other cities in New Jersey.
While cautioning against reading too much into the numbers, the report shows lower crime statistics since consolidation. One factor contributing to the apparent downturn is that in 2013 Princeton University began reporting its own UCR statistics. “I can say from experience that most of those crimes being reported by Princeton University are property crimes,” said Mr. Sutter in an email interview. Thus, thefts and burglaries on campus that would, in previous years, have been reported by the municipalities are now reported separately by the Princeton University Department of Public Safety.
The PPD report lists a total of 444 arrests including 15 for theft, 34 for shoplifting, 61 for driving while intoxicated, and three for serving alcohol to minors.
According to Mr. Sutter the report provides “a baseline” reference point for the future. For a number of reasons, not least of which is consolidation, it is difficult to compare the finding of this year’s report with the reports of the two previous police departments of Borough and Township. “Our intent is to provide similar reports every year going forward. I think the true comparisons will start to take place this year (2014) and moving forward as we see what the trends are in the newly consolidated municipality,” said Mr. Sutter.
Council member and Police Commissioner Heather Howard, who is also on the Public Safety Committee, described the report as “comprehensive,” “thoughtful” and demonstrating the PPD’s -“commitment to transparency.” “We will then be able to track trends and better manage our resources to meet the needs of the -community,” she said.
Asked what could be done to address the higher than average property crime rate for Princeton, Mr. Sutter said that given Princeton’s status as a destination for visitors, such a property crime rate is “not startling.” He added: “With that being said, we are always analyzing crime trends and addressing them through personnel deployment strategies and other means in an attempt to increase safety and decrease crime. I think overall the statistics show that Princeton is a safe community and in part that can be attributed to the work of the police department.”
“Clearly the report shows tremendous community policing based initiatives taking place within the department that would not have been possible prior to consolidation,” commented Mr. Sutter. “Our department has been able to sustain constant and consistent community policing efforts in 2013 that we were unable to sustain as separate entities. While the entire department operates under a community policing philosophy, our Safe Neighborhood Bureau and Traffic Bureau have been able to address community concerns immediately and sustain these efforts that patrol units are unable to do on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. Consolidation has enabled us to fully employ a needs based approach to the way we provide policing services. This is absolutely essential in addressing community concerns in a timely and effective manner.”
As documented in the report, several officers reached out to Princeton’s Hispanic community last May in a effort to reduce “a general mistrust of law enforcement.” With the help of Father Miguel Valle and St.Paul’s Church on Nassau Street and Nina Lavada and the Latinos en Progreso group at the John Witherspoon Middle School, meetings were held and questions and comments addressed. The department has made a point of not enforcing federal immigration law and of examining the crime of “wage theft.” As a result, there has been an increase in the number of calls for service from Hispanic residents of Princeton, a sure sign of increased trust in the PPD, according to the report.
Princeton Administrator Robert Bruschi underscored Mr. Sutter’s confidence in the Safe Neighborhood Bureau, which “has done a great job getting out into the community” he said. “Having an active Safe Neighborhood unit builds confidence in the department and fosters a solid working relationship with neighborhoods and businesses. This relationship can be invaluable when you are looking to reduce crime and to eliminate easy targets.”
The report also states that the PPD wants to increase the diversity of its work force, of which currently 79 percent of sworn officers are white. The goal is to have a department that reflects Princeton’s overall racial and gender composition.”
“I would hope that members of our community interpret this report as an effort at complete departmental transparency as well as an effort at increasing open communication between the department and community,” said Mr. Sutter.
“[The report] will help the public understand not only what is happening in our community but also gives important insights into how our police department operates. I hope it will generate further discussions about how to strengthen our public safety services and better serve the community,” said Ms. Howard.
“The department has turned a corner over the last year under new leadership, successfully merging two departments with two different cultures and acting nimbly to meet our needs despite a reduced force,” commented Mr. Bruschi, in reference to upcoming appointment of a new Chief of Police. “We need to lock in these gains and stabilize our leadership so that we can continue on the positive path.”
For the full PPD report, visit the municipal web site: www.princetonnj.gov.