Morristown public safety report says crime is at new low

morristown police report 2018
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A few years ago, when rowdy behavior by downtown bar patrons was a hot issue in Morristown, resident Donna Gaffney spent months laboriously extracting police statistics from the town.

If there is a next time, Gaffney should have things easier.

Michael Corcoran Jr., addresses council moments after becoming town's first Public Safety Director, Sept. 25, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Michael Corcoran Jr., addresses council moments after becoming town’s first Public Safety Director, Sept. 25, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Morristown’s new public safety director, Michael Corcoran Jr., has issued Morristown’s first comprehensive annual police and fire report in memory.

Its 102 pages are noteworthy for what they contain–stats on everything from pedestrian accidents to internal investigations–and also for what’s not there.

Noticeably absent from biographies of police supervisors is one for Police Chief Pete Demnitz.

Police Chief Pete Demnitz is sworn in for civil trial, as Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi watches, May 21, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Police Chief Pete Demnitz is sworn in for civil trial, as Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi watches, May 21, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A 35-year veteran of the force, and chief since 2004, Demnitz was placed on paid administrative leave in December for undisclosed reasons, and there he remains.

Officer Keith Hudson successfully sued the town last year, claiming Demnitz busted him from detective for blowing the whistle on the chief’s freelance gigs.

Acting Chief Darnell Richardson delivers a greeting in the report.

Statistics from the Morris County Office of Planning and Preservation indicate Morristown’s violent- and nonviolent crime rates slightly exceed statewide rates, and exceed Morris County’s by a larger margin. But Corcoran’s numbers show a dramatic decline, to the town’s lowest crime levels in at least a decade.

The most serious “Part 1” offenses–from homicide to motor vehicle theft–have decreased from 659 to 219 between 2008 and 2018. Violent crimes were down from 115 to 17 — with no murders–while non-violent crimes declined from 544 to 202, according to the report.

“We’re going to keep our foot on the gas to keep going that direction,” Corcoran, a former West Orange deputy police chief and Navy veteran, told the Morristown council last week.

Serious crimes, Morristown, 2008-2018. Source: Morristown Department of Public Safety Annual Report 2018.
Serious crimes, Morristown, 2008-2018. Source: Morristown Department of Public Safety Annual Report 2018.

Hired last September, Corcoran said he is impressed so far with the bureau’s professionalism. “The culture we are trying to create is one of continual improvement,” he told Morristown Green.

Corcoran declined to discuss Chief Demnitz’ status, calling it a personnel matter.

Morristown over-all crime, 2008-2018. Source: Morristown Department of Public Safety Annual Report 2018.
Morristown over-all crime, 2008-2018. Source: Morristown Department of Public Safety Annual Report 2018.

The report’s mission statement promises integrity, honesty, fairness, respect and compassion from the 57-member police bureau. Goals are more community engagement, accreditation by the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police, and fewer traffic accidents.

A consulting group has been hired for $40,000 to help the bureau achieve accreditation over the next year. This involves implementing more than 100 standards covering everything from use-of-force investigations to internal affairs practices and performance tracking.

Such certification is becoming the norm in policing, and should boost public confidence while reducing the town’s insurance costs, Corcoran said.

BY THE NUMBERS

Morristown police answered more than 45,000 calls for service last year, arrested 371 adults and pressed 47 juvenile complaints.

More than 30 percent of service calls were traffic-related, the report states.

Police investigated 1,473 motor vehicle crashes in 2018, a number that has remained fairly consistent over the last five years. Twenty-six accidents involved a pedestrian or bicycle. Three crashes resulted in a fatality.

Traffic tickets were up by 30 percent, Corcoran said. Speeding “is the complaint I get the most,” he told the council, pledging to beef up enforcement.

Morristown motor vehicles tickets 2018. Source: Morristown Department of Public Safety Annual Report 2018.
Morristown motor vehicles tickets 2018. Source: Morristown Department of Public Safety Annual Report 2018.

Police administered 19 doses of the drug Narcan; 15 times it reversed an opioid overdose, the public safety director said.

Quality of life issues also rank high on the director’s agenda. Some 150 tickets were issued last year for drinking in public, and more than 100 summonses charged people with public urination.

Nearly 100 warnings were given for bicycling on sidewalks, as part of a public information campaign coordinated with the Wind of the Spirit Immigration Resource Center, Marty’s Reliable Cycle, and others in the community, Corcoran said.

More pedestrian safety initiatives are coming, he added, thanks to a $20,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation.

Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The report also cites the police role in maintaining safety at large events such as last year’s Women’s March and the March for Our Lives in Morristown, the county seat of Morris County.

Along those lines, the bureau has received $30,854 in federal reimbursements for assisting the Secret Service last year during 17 New Jersey visits by President Donald Trump, Corcoran said. The President flies into Morristown Airport when visiting his golf course in Bedminster.

Twenty-four complaints against Morristown police were investigated last year by the bureau’s Internal Affairs Unit.

Forty-two percent of those investigations are ongoing. In cases disposed of in 2018, officers were cleared in 41 percent and complaints were deemed unfounded in 42 percent.

The lion’s share of complaints–nearly two-thirds–involved the demeanor, or perceived demeanor, of officers, according to the report.

Morristown Fire Chief Bob Flanagan, left, meets new Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr., Sept. 25, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Fire Chief Bob Flanagan, left, meets new Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr., Sept. 25, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Excessive force, differential treatment and minor rule infractions each accounted for 8 percent of complaints. Thirteen percent were handled by outside agencies. Potentially criminal complaints are reviewed by the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.

The fire bureau, staffed by 32 career firefighters and 18 volunteers, responded to 1,729 incidents that included fires, rescues, and emergency medical calls; and the town fire marshal performed 646 inspections, reported Fire Chief Robert Flanagan.

Council members Hiliari Davis, Bob Iannaccone and David Silva praised the report, and Mayor Tim Dougherty thanked the council for approving the new public safety position and for unanimously voting for Corcoran’s hiring.

Morristown resident Donna Gaffney urges council to study her data before voting. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown resident Donna Gaffney urges council to study her data before voting. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“We picked the right guy,” the Mayor said. “He’s a born leader, and people are responding to it.”

Although the report does not include a breakdown of bar-related incidents, Donna Gaffney, the resident who not so long ago had to fish for police data, was encouraged by the document.

“It is certainly a step in the right direction and furthers transparency for all who live and work in Morristown,” Gaffney said.

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1 COMMENT

  1. The public safety director is getting $140,000 a year to hire a company for $40,000 to do something he was hired to do. $40,000 is just the beginning this company is going to get paid. I wonder how this outside company was chosen? Perhaps a friend or associate of the directors from a place he worked in the past? West Orange maybe?? Performance tracking = a push for more tickets, yes Morristown residents that means us too. Get ready.

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