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Post-Consolidation crime report released

Crime is down in town. Princeton's crime index is 35 percent higher than the New Jersey average

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Overall town crime rates went down in 2013, the first year following the consolidation of the former Princeton Township and the Borough, though police cautioned against reading too far into the numbers.

The report said the Princeton crime index is 35 percent higher than the New Jersey average, but that the New Jersey crime index is 27% lower than the National average. However, the violent crime rate is 72 percent lower than the state average, although its property crime rate is 50 percent higher.

The 45-page report, written by the current acting chief of the Princeton Police Department, Captain Nick Sutter, contrasts data from both the Township and Borough from 2011 and 2012 with data from the consolidated town in 2013. In his opening letter, Sutter listed many of the department’s successes from 2013, including the standardization of operating procedures with the University’s Department of Public Safety and the completion of a community-wide survey of police expectations by the newly established Safe Neighborhood and Traffic Safety Bureau.

“This report symbolizes the commitment and efforts of the fine men and women of the department and the pride with which they serve the department and community,” Sutter wrote.

Mayor Liz Lempert said the idea for the report came largely from Sutter himself.

“The hope is that the community can better understand all the work that the police department does, and that moving forward it will give both the department and the governing body a baseline to see trends and make sure that we are properly responding and adapting,” Lempert said.

Under the Uniform Crime Reporting System, a nationwide system for collecting and distributing crime statistics, eight criminal offenses are reported and tracked.

In 2011, there were 602 of these offenses, which include rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. In 2012, 691 offenses were reported. However, in 2013, this number dropped to 351, with the biggest change being in the number of larcenies reported.

The report also cautioned against taking these numbers at face value, saying that while UCR statistics can be useful, they “often do not present a full picture of crime in a community.”

For example, the report noted that the University began reporting its own UCR statistics, so many burglaries and thefts reported on campus do not appear in the town’s statistics anymore.

Sutter said in an interview that once the University releases its UCR report, he would be able to form a clearer picture of what the difference in crime was, and he would be better able to assess the impact of the new reporting system.

“We’ll know the exact number once [the University] reports for 2013,” Sutter said.

In addition, the Princeton Borough experienced a string of residential and motor vehicle burglaries in 2012, which represented a large spike in crime, particularly in a smaller community such as Princeton. Thus, while UCR data appears to show a significant decrease in crime, many other factors influence crime statistics.

In total, 444 arrests were made in 2013, the majority classified as “service of warrant,” for when a person fails to appear in court for a misdemeanor or traffic violation. The next four highest categories were for contempt of court, driving while intoxicated, controlled dangerous substance possession or influence, and shoplifting. In addition, 14 arrests were made for underage alcohol possession.

The report also said the chance of being a victim of a crime in Princeton is 1 in 32, while the chance of being a victim of violent crime in Princeton is 1 in 1,235.

Princeton is safer than 37.9 percent of cities in the nation, according to the report.

“The property crime rate doesn’t necessarily surprise me, given that Princeton is a very popular destination throughout the world.” Sutter said. “We definitely have proactive patrols out that look for that type of thing, and our community policing is responsible for those types of issues as well. Those types of crimes really ebb and flow. I’m pretty sure as time goes on, we’ll see them diminish.”

Lempert said the higher property crime rate could likely be attributed to the fact that Princeton’s downtown is active.

The department also initiated a Hispanic Community Outreach program last May to “identify the concerns, perceptions, and problems in the Hispanic Community,” spearheaded by two officers with assistance from the Safe Neighborhood Bureau. According to the report, the officers discovered certain obstacles in reaching out to the Hispanic community, including a general mistrust of law enforcement, a generalization of local law enforcement with federal immigration agencies, and wage theft.

In the Safe Neighborhood Bureau’s community survey, Sutter said, virtually no Hispanic residents responded, indicating a lack of participation by the community in taking advantage of community and municipal services.

“We initiated a proactive approach to involving them in discussions and addressing things that are important to that community, and I think it’s been successful,” Sutter said.

The program held six meetings last year at St. Paul’s Church and John Witherspoon Middle School, including two Latinos en Progreso programs, providing general police-related information.

“The police department has shown real commitment both in time and in resources in reaching out,” Lempert said, praising the department’s initiative in implementing the program.

The report said that in the first four months of 2013, before the program was implemented, 32 calls for service were made by Hispanic residents. Following the program, this number increased to 114, or almost twice as many calls made a month.

“We believe this is a direct result of our efforts in the community instilling trust in the department and building positive relationships,” the report read.

The report also contained information about the Princeton Police Department’s demographics, stating that the goal of the department’s recruitment plan is to attract qualified individuals and achieve an “overall racial and gender composition of the department in comparison to the service population of Princeton.”

African-Americans and Hispanics represent 10 percent of the service population, and together they comprise 21 percent of current sworn officers. Twenty percent of the service population is classified as “other” —  not Caucasian, African-American or Hispanic. However, no sworn officers are classified as “other.”

“While the diversity of the department exceeds that of our service area (community), we are committed to increasing the diversity in the department as we recruit and hire the most qualified people available,” the report read.

The report also listed a number of future goals for the department, including increasing “critical incident training opportunities” with the University’s Department of Public Safety and continued community outreach to local schools and businesses.

Sutter said the critical incident training was “definitely best practice,” and added that he hoped to maintain the good relationship the PPD has with DPS.

“Our relationship has been tremendous, and we’ve worked on it regularly,” Sutter said. “We meet monthly and talk about it monthly; we share policies. It’s a very functional relationship.”

The full report can be found on the town of Princeton’s website.

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