Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 29
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
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Borough Council Briefed on Police Detective Bureau

Dilshanie Perera

The importance of the role of the detective bureau was underscored during last week’s Council meeting, with Borough Police Chief David Dudeck explaining the department’s investigative unit’s role with respect to the entire operation of the force.

The conversation was inspired by an overall look by Borough Council at the Police Department staffing levels, and the number of officers needed to fulfill patrol, investigation, and supervisory duties. A previous discussion held three months ago focused on the patrol division. During the meeting, Captain Nicholas Sutter, who runs the detective bureau, and Lieutenant Sharon Papp, were present to offer additional insight.

The detective bureau is responsible for conducting all follow-up investigations of incidents. All crimes that are reported are reviewed by the Police Captain and Detective Sergeant before being assigned to a detective for a thorough look into the case. Priority is given to serious offenses, but everything that happens within the police department funnels down to the detective bureau.

Mr. Dudeck explained that a detective within the department is not a position of rank, but rather the equivalent of a patrol officer. “There are different skills we look for in a detective,” he added, foremost among them is prowess in communication. “It is imperative that the detective be able to communicate effectively with the public … and have the ability to write.”

The detectives also “get involved with the public in many different ways — talking to witnesses and victims, giving talks — they’re developing relationships, and that’s the number one way of solving crimes,” Mr. Dudeck said.

“During their time in the detective bureau, our detectives really become seasoned police officers,” Mr. Sutter added. “They have to be able to relate to people, they talk to parents, young adults, children. Juvenile law as compared to adult law is totally different … it’s more about rehabilitation. We would really like to see one or two detectives share responsibilities as a juvenile officer.”

“It’s almost like you’re a hybrid, you’re half-cop, half-counselor,” Mr. Dudeck said, acknowledging that “some of the most challenging and enjoyable” time spent on the force took place during his six plus years in the detective bureau.

Suggesting that the optimal minimum number of people to staff the bureau would be one detective sergeant and four detectives, Mr. Dudeck said that currently only the detective sergeant and one detective are in situ. One detective is injured, and another is on maternity leave, with a third getting ready to go on maternity leave.

Officers, and particularly detectives, receive training in many areas, which could significantly reduce the number of detectives available for duty.

The goal is not simply to investigate crimes and cases, but to solve them, Mr. Dudeck emphasized. To that end, special training includes everything from lifting fingerprints and studying arson cases, to photographing crime scenes, and practicing interview and interrogation techniques.

Other responsibilities involve evidence collection, background checks for gun license applicants, inspections of local establishments that serve alcohol, maintaining and monitoring databases of evidence, and writing and filing reports for every case, among other duties.

“I’m beginning to get a picture of what your work is like,” Council member Barbara Trelstad said, while Mayor Mildred Trotman thanked the Chief, Captain, and Lieutenant for their presentation. “This makes it much clearer to all of us,” she said.

Due to lower staffing levels in the detective bureau, Mr. Dudeck admitted that “Captain Sutter, Lieutenant Papp, and I have been working on cases that we probably wouldn’t at this point in our careers.” He expressed his hope for a fully staffed bureau by early 2011.

Council member Roger Martindell said, “I didn’t hear much of a dialogue regarding what guidance we can give you in the management of the department.” He offered up increased shared services with other municipalities to streamline responsibilities and need for training, as a potential way to achieve greater efficiency in time and savings.

“When we look at the police department, we look at it from a bird’s eye view,” Mr. Martindell suggested, adding that the areas to explore further include the budget, the kind of policing program the Borough wants to have, the requisite staffing levels, the style of service, and a bureau-by-bureau analysis.

David Goldfarb of Borough Council noted that his “general observation is that the Borough has a larger than median force in New Jersey, but the demand is certainly greater.” He wondered about the specifics of how smaller police departments cope with similar demands outlined in the Chief’s report.

Ms. Trotman noted that “we’re in a low percentile as far as residents, but we’re the third busiest court.”

The discussion regarding police department staffing and operations will be ongoing.

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