Lock your doors and windows. Report anyone who looks suspicious. Start a neighborhood watch.
These crime-fighting tips sound too obvious to bother mentioning. Yet they are overlooked all too often, Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz said on Thursday, at a meeting where concerned residents nearly were outnumbered by officials and dignitaries, including two mayoral candidates.
“Over the last two months, every burglary–every burglary, every burglary–was through an unlocked door or window,” the Chief said.
He addressed a handful of people from the Budd Street neighborhood who gathered at The Main Event by Chef Melody, at the invitation of Fourth Ward Councilwoman Alison Deeb.
At least seven burglaries have been reported in town since August. The last two, in the Washington’s Headquarters neighborhood, occurred during the daytime.
But a more violent incident sparked Thursday’s session. Chris and Christine Bitler told the town council last month that “four thugs” chased a teen through their Phoenix Avenue yard in broad daylight and beat him bloody. And local one-way streets have become drag strips, according to the couple, who expressed fear for their son’s safety.
The beating probably was a drug deal gone bad; the victim refused to cooperate with authorities, Chief Demnitz said. He speculated it may have been a “ripple effect” from the bust of a suspected heroin ring.
Another resident swore she heard rifle shots three weeks ago; the Chief pledged to look into it.
While things appear to have quieted down, the Chief reminded residents to dial 9-1-1 whenever they sense trouble.
“It’s very frustrating to me that there’s an assumption that government–and police–will do 100 percent of the work,” he said. “Whether it’s crime prevention or the tragedy in D.C. [the Navy yard shootings] or natural disasters, these things are going to happen, and average citizens need to do a little more to make themselves safe.”
‘PEOPLE ARE STRUGGLING’
That message was echoed by Mayor Tim Dougherty, who noted that his home in the Historic District was burglarized a few years ago. In a separate incident, he said, drug arrests were made after his wife Mary reported someone suspicious parked on their street.
“The economy is still tough, and people are struggling out there,” the Mayor said. “People do things when they’re desperate. Stay vigilant. Stay on it.”
Sitting across from the Mayor was Rich Babcock, his Republican opponent in this fall’s election and a resident of the Budd Street neighborhood.
Establishing a neighborhood watch is challenging, Rich said, because many of his neighbors are renters, as opposed to homeowners with children, the group most likely to get involved. The Bitlers, who are parents, were unable to attend Thursday’s session.
Quality-of-life issues are getting more attention, said Joe Costa, the town’s new director of code enforcement. He has tracked down owners of two seemingly abandoned, problem-plagued homes on Phoenix.
And two new part-time inspectors are investigating complaints about overcrowded houses (“stacking”) on weekends, when odds are better for uncovering violations. More improvements will bring the town’s code enforcement “into the 21st century,” Joe said.
‘VICTIM OF OUR SUCCESS’
Councilman Stefan Armington described how an association that he helped launch 13 years ago has bolstered security in his Cutler Park neighborhood. Listening intently were Jen Wehring of the Morristown Partnership and First Lady Mary Dougherty.
Alison Deeb said she hopes to round up more Budd Street residents on Oct. 17 to discuss a neighborhood watch program. The few who came on Thursday called the meeting worthwhile.
“The fact that they’re checking properties makes me feel a little better” about stacking, said Victoria Burton. “I hope they stay on top of it.”
Britt Norby said it was a relief to know others share her concern about break-ins. Retired schoolteacher Peter Tamburro Jr. asked the police chief if he considers the Budd Street area as a trouble spot.
Happily, Chief Demnitz replied, most complaints involve traffic nowadays.
“We’re a victim of our own success,” he said. “Twenty years ago, not a lot of stores were open. There were not a lot of pedestrians. There was not a lot of traffic. In my humble opinion, the town has gotten a lot better. I don’t look at any neighborhoods differently. Morristown’s a pretty nice place.”