Why weren’t Morristown residents warned to be on the lookout last week for an alleged rapist?
And why weren’t they alerted in November and December to a rash of burglaries police say he committed?
“As soon as the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office takes over a case, a serious case, like that sexual assault was, we are legally bound not to talk. And we cannot put out press releases,” Police Chief Pete Demnitz told the town council on Tuesday, after taking issue with a newspaper story that questioned his silence.
Burglaries are publicized only if they escalate to a dangerous situation, he added, explaining he is sensitive to officials and business people concerned about the town’s image.
“It’s always a balance,” he said.
Brian K. Session, 47, of East Orange, was arrested on Friday, a day after allegedly raping a woman who found him burglarizing her Morristown apartment.
The woman was returning from shopping shortly after 11 am on Thursday, according to court documents. She told police the assailant demanded her credit card and ATM pin, smashed her cell phone and iPad, “attacked” her with a stun gun, tied her up, and sexually assaulted her.
Session fled with cash and the credit card, and was arrested the next day thanks in part to mobile phone records and surveillance video, according to the Prosecutor’s Office. The location of the alleged attack was not disclosed, to protect the victim’s identity.
Demnitz said he was briefed on the progress of that investigation, “and I knew that the community at large was safe. Because my detectives knew where was.”
Video: Morristown police chief defends silence
The defendant admitted binding the victim and carrying a stun gun, but denied the rape, according to court records.
He also confessed to breaking into two Hill Street apartments on Dec. 5, 2017, and breaking into three more apartments on Ridgedale Avenue around Nov. 15, according to court records. Police believe he attempted to burglarize another three apartments on Ridgedale at that time.
The arrest was announced on Saturday–the same day thousands came to Morristown for the Women’s March on New Jersey. That evening, Mayor Tim Dougherty announced police would beef up patrols near the crime scenes, out of “an abundance of caution.”
A public meeting about home security and burglary prevention is scheduled for town hall at 6:30 pm on Jan. 31, 2018, said Dougherty, who will field questions with the Police Chief.
BURGLARIES, BUSINESS, ‘BALANCE’
Demnitz said his officers sat down with managers of both apartment buildings after they were burglarized, and tenants were notified there and in two other buildings overseen by one of the managers.
But town-wide advisories are trickier, he said, responding to a question from town Administrator Jillian Barrick.
“I can tell you, there’s always that debate about how much information we should put out there. As a law enforcement professional, if there’s one burglary, I want a press release. Why do I want a press release?
“I want a press release because I figure I’m dealing with a pro. And if a pro did well, and had proceeds from a burglary… he’s coming back. I don’t want to wait for two or three burglaries,” Demnitz said.
“But I will tell you, the people that I’ve dealt with over the years–the business community, the Morristown Partnership, the Hyatt Hotel–they don’t want me to put out a press release for every burglary.”
Exceptions, he said, are cases where a burglar was “surprised and bad things happened.”
Then, “we’ll start putting out press releases. But it’s always a conversation. It’s always a balance. I’ve talked to council people in the past, I’ve talked to mayors in the past, that did not want press releases to go out. They just wanted the general area to be notified.
“It’s a decision that I have to make based on all the information that’s presented to me. I generally present it to my administration, and we make a decision in the best interests of everybody.”
Dougherty said he has not asked the Chief to keep quiet about burglaries.
“We leave it to the police department’s expertise about what should and should not be publicized for safety reasons, or to avoid compromising an active investigation,” the Mayor said after the council meeting.
Earlier in the evening, Demnitz heard praise from organizers of the Women’s March for his logistical help, and for coordinating a security effort involving nearly 40 police-, fire- and EMT agencies from across Morris County.
The Mayor chimed in, too.
“The chief and I sometimes have differences. But when it comes to crowd control and putting stuff like this together, there’s no better guy to have in that place,” Dougherty said.
“He is nationally recognized for his ability to do crowd control…and we saw the results of it Saturday.”