In wake of burglaries and rape, Morristown police say they will step up public alerts

A Morristown resident questions the police chief about crime alerts, in the wake of an alleged rape by a suspected serial burgler. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A Morristown resident questions the police chief about crime alerts, in the wake of an alleged rape by a suspected serial burgler. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Responding to public concerns after an alleged rape by a suspected burglar, Morristown’s mayor and police chief told residents on Wednesday they will issue more frequent alerts about local crimes.

“I will put every burglary out,” said Chief Pete Demnitz, who heard some criticism of his silent approach during a 90-minute special meeting attended by a few dozen people at town hall.

Demnitz also urged creation of Neighborhood Watch groups — popular next door in Morris Township — and greater vigilance to prevent another “tragedy.”

Mayor Tim Dougherty encouraged residents to sign up for Nixle, a service that enables the town to blast alerts via text messages and emails. His office and the Chief will craft a policy about what to release, when and how, he said.

Some residents who live near apartments burglarized in November (Ridgedale Avenue) and December (Hill Street) told the officials they should have been alerted. A public notice also should have followed the sexual assault, one woman insisted.

Brian K. Session, 47, of East Orange, was arrested in connection with the rape and burglaries a day after the Jan. 18, 2018, assault.

Police Chief Pete Demnitz, standing, fields question as Mayor Tim Dougherty and Administrator Jillian Barrick listen, Jan. 31, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Police Chief Pete Demnitz, standing, fields question as Mayor Tim Dougherty and Administrator Jillian Barrick listen, Jan. 31, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Demnitz reiterated he had been monitoring the swiftly unfolding rape investigation, and had assured town officials that residents were in no danger. He could disclose no more, he said, per rules of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, the lead agency.

“If I give out information without the Prosecutor’s authority, I can be charged criminally,” Demnitz said, explaining that these strict protocols help convict criminals.

Refusing to play “Monday morning quarterback,” Dougherty expressed confidence in Demnitz and “the best police department in Morris County.”

POLICE APARTMENT SAFETY TIPS

According to court records, Session burglarized five apartments and attempted three more break-ins between the two locations. Authorities have not disclosed the apartment building where the late-morning rape occurred, to protect the victim’s identity.

While asserting that all burglaries are taken seriously — “they are an invasion of your protected space”–Demnitz said the ones in November and December did not appear at the time to warrant breaking a policy of only releasing alerts involving safety issues, when they don’t jeopardize arrests.

Thaddeus Kobylarz (standing), a former zoning board member, said he wants alerts about burglaries in his neighborhood. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Thaddeus Kobylarz (standing), a former zoning board member, said he wants alerts about burglaries in his neighborhood. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Very generally, the Morristown Bureau of Police are expected to do their job, quietly, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said the Chief. “You’re professionals, do your job, do it quietly, keep it safe.”

Managers of the burglarized buildings were asked to notify their tenants, and tenants in other buildings they manage, Demnitz said.

Tenants in other apartments near Hill Street, and at the nearby Blair House, said they never were warned to be on the lookout.

‘THIS IS A VERY, VERY SAFE TOWN’

Demnitz acknowledged residents’ anxiety. When investigating the rape and murder of a 10-year-old boy in 2001, he said, he wanted to release information. The Prosecutor said no, fearing publicity would spook the suspect into fleeing to Honduras. Authorities eventually made an arrest and got a conviction.

Earlier in his 35-year career, Demnitz said, Morristown police issued so many notices that his own mother complained they were hurting property values.

Councilman Robert Iannaccone expressed hopes that a terrible crime will galvanize public vigilance. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Councilman Robert Iannaccone expressed hopes that a terrible crime will galvanize public vigilance. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Reprising that approach will spark as many complaints as kudos, the Chief predicted.

He cited statistics suggesting Morristown’s speak-softly practice has worked. Police here solve 68 percent of burglaries, he said, compared with a national average of about 17 percent.

Morristown had 25 burglaries last year, with no discernible pattern except that businesses tended to get hit at night, while apartments were daytime targets, Demnitz said.

“This is a very, very safe town,” he said, contending it would be even safer if people locked their doors and windows, were more observant and reported suspicious activities more often.

Inevitably, Demnitz said, meetings like Wednesday’s are one-time affairs because public interest wanes.  He was surprised that something so tragic — authorities say the rape victim was attacked with a stun gun and tied up–failed to attract more concerned citizens.

“This should have been an overflow crowd,” Demnitz said.

Morristown resident Peter Gilpatric said tips to Morris County CrimeStoppers led to 120 arrests last year. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown resident Peter Gilpatric said tips to Morris County CrimeStoppers led to 120 arrests last year. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The audience included town Administrator Jillian Barrick and Council Members Robert Iannaccone, Alison Deeb and David Silva.  Peter Gilpatric, a commissioner for the county CrimeStoppers program, and Mount Olive Police Chief Stephen Beecher also attended.

Residents characterized the gathering as productive.

“There are not many towns where the mayor and police chief will sit down and talk with people for an hour,” said Carl Bruen.

Jane Shivas said she knows and trusts the police chief, yet still would have appreciated alerts about the November and December burglaries.

“If there is a burglary near my home, I would like to know about it,” added Thaddeus Kobylarz. “I think it’s great to have this conversation.”

Debora Vereen bought her Morristown home seven years ago. “I’ve always felt safe here,” she said.  Still, the meeting was a reminder. “It’s important we remain vigilant.”

Mayor Tim Dougherty and Police Chief Peter Demnitz said they have spent a combined total of 89 years in town. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mayor Tim Dougherty and Police Chief Peter Demnitz said they have spent a combined total of 89 years in town. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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