April 18, 2018

PPD Focuses on Community Policing Mission

By Donald Gilpin

Community policing, including many outreach programs, positive police-citizen interaction, and improved communication through direct contacts and use of technology — along with successful recruitment and training — are the key themes that emerge in the Princeton Police Department’s 2017 Annual Report, and in subsequent reflections offered by PPD Chief Nick Sutter.

In his introduction to the 2017 annual report Sutter emphasized the priority placed on engaging stakeholders and ensuring “that the values and goals of the department represented those of our community and employees.” He noted the “laser-focused department mission” and expressed pride in the “robust community policing culture that we have cultivated within the department.”

Pointing out “monumental change” occurring in Princeton and in law enforcement on a national level, Sutter stated that PPD took notice and learned. “We recognized the need for trust between the police and the community we serve. We recognized our role as guardians of our community and built on this mindset and ingrained it in the cultural fabric of the department.”

Community Response

The PPD 2017 survey of the community elicited overwhelmingly favorable responses, with 87 percent of responders saying their interactions with the PPD were positive and 95 percent saying they feel safe in Princeton.

The biggest concerns were speeding, parking, and pedestrian safety, but 77 percent agreed the the Princeton police “meet the needs of traffic-related issues in the community.”

“Feedback has increased,” Sutter said. “I’m happy with the feedback we got, but we have to figure out a way to get more response. We’ve been using social media, but we need more participants. We need to find ways to get more people involved.” There were 178 surveys submitted, 119 in English and 59 in Spanish.

Discussing traffic complaints and the department’s strategy in working to address them, he highlighted the
importance of communication and personal engagement. “Enforcement doesn’t necessarily mean summonses. We’ve been working hard. We want people to see this as fair,” he said.

Sutter pointed out that there were about 6,000 traffic summonses last year but that approximately 71 percent of motor vehicle stops resulted only in warnings. “Summonses are not the number one tool,” he said. “Conversation and education are important. We’re making contacts. We’re out there listening to complaints. We’re not being heavy-handed and we don’t want to be viewed that way.”

Panera Shooting

In response to a question about the March 20 shooting incident at the Panera Bread Restaurant on Nassau Street, Sutter discussed the conduct of PPD officers who were involved in a standoff of almost five hours with a man who was eventually killed by state troopers.

Though the incident is still under investigation by the state attorney general’s office, Sutter expressed confidence that in the final report “you’ll find out that our officers showed absolute professionalism and a huge amount of compassion.”

“We communicated face-to-face with him for many hours,” he said. “Our officers exceeded all expectations. They put themselves out there, and they acted with compassion. We were in there for the entire response, 10:30 to 3. I wish it could have ended better.”

Sutter emphasized the value and importance of training and continuous re-training. “That is the answer to a lot of issues regarding law enforcement.” He mentioned a broad array of training and specialized instruction in many different disciplines. There’s a mandated amount of training, but we’re getting much more than that. I’m confident that this training will pay off.”

Some training, he noted, is initiated in response to threats that appear throughout the country. “We prepare for them,” he said. “We have to prepare for that. In our business you don’t prepare for ‘if;’ you prepare for ‘when.’ We’re never complacent.”

In addressing questions of school safety, Sutter did not mention specifics, but emphasized that he and Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane are in communication regularly and frequently. “We take the issue of school safety extremely seriously. We are taking all precautions to prevent the unthinkable.”

Sutter repeatedly praised the members of his department and commented on recent successful recruitment. “We have been able to recruit the best qualified, diverse candidates you’ll find anywhere,” he said, pointing out increased diversity reflected in the demographics section of the annual report.

In his commentary in the annual report Sutter concluded, “Policing in the 21st century demands that we increase positive police-citizen interactions to build trust in the department and illustrate the legitimacy of our mission. Our officers embraced this philosophy enthusiastically through contacts within the community. Simultaneously we engaged our community through technology and increased our social media presence exponentially. The results speak for themselves.”