NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Less than a week after Gov. Chris Christie agreed to call the state’s top law enforcement official about a brewing police jurisdiction controversy in New Brunswick, both police departments announced a new and unprecedented collaboration.
Yesterday morning, the New Brunswick Police Department issued a press release announcing that city police would host an unspecified number of Rutgers University police officers at their regular muster sessions.
The RUPD officers would then ride along in NBPD vehicles assigned to patrol the Fifth and Sixth Wards of New Brunswick, where students are on edge after a perceived spike in crime.
“Although neighborhood policing is nothing new to the New Brunswick Police Department, the concept of putting Rutgers and New Brunswick police officers in the same patrol car is a first for both departments,” read the release.
Captain JT Miller, a spokesman for the NBPD, confirmed today the “new Neighborhood Police Team” (NPT) program already began on March 16, but declined to give details about the scope of the new program.
The press release indicated the ride-along program will help Rutgers to learn about the full extent of crimes in the Fifth and Sixth Wards each evening, aiding their new expanded crime alert system.
The official release said that the new patrols would occur in the “evening and early morning hours,” and that it would improve communication between the two departments.
That alert system will only be utilized “when the university is made aware of any incidents,” according to an announcement made earlier this month.
Because the departments do not operate on the same police radio frequency, officers on the street must go through their respective dispatchers to communicate with one another.
And still, the other RUPD officers on patrol continue to be prevented from giving out traffic tickets, making DUI arrests, and pulling motorists over at all.
As we reported earlier, the Rutgers Police Department’s jurisdiction to pull over automobiles was cut back sharply on December 6 by New Brunswick Police Director Anthony Caputo.
Just last week, Jacqui Klein, a parent of a Rutgers student who lives in the Sixth Ward asked Governor Chris Christie to promise his support for “empowering the Rutgers police with full powers,” after the Governor called on her at a Town Hall meeting in South River.
Prior to the sudden changes implemented by Caputo, the RUPD had a much larger presence in the Fifth and Sixth Wards and were known for making many driving while intoxicated arrests on the busy Easton Avenue corridor.
Russell Marchetta, a spokesman for James Cahill, indicated that the changes came in response to the growth of the university, and Rutgers’ recent merger with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ.
“With the increase in the number of properties owned by Rutgers due to the recent merger with UMDNJ, Director Caputo felt this change was in the best interest of the City to allow RUPD to concentrate its efforts on its students and quality of life issues dealing with students rather than Motor Vehicle issues on City streets,” read the internal memo made public last week by New Brunswick Today.
At the Town Hall, Christie said he was open to the idea of restoring full jurisdiction to the Rutgers Police, but unfamiliar with the situation.
“I can’t promise you that I will support giving Rutgers police full powers… What I will tell you is that today I will call the Attorney General and speak to him about the situation in New Brunswick and [the murder of Billy McCaw], and get his advice and his help on what’s going on in New Brunswick and on the Rutgers,” said Christie.
“If he too beleives that there needs to be an expansion of the authority of the Rutgesr police, then that’s something I will support,” Christie told the crowd of 400.
Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, said “The Attorney General has spoken to [Acting Middlesex County] Prosecuor Carey. He’s aware of the situation.”
Sources say that Rutgers Police Chief Kenneth Cop has also been contacted by the Attorney General’s office as well in connection with the inquiry.
Cop has not returned multiple phone messages and emails seeking comments on the controversy, and the new NPT program.
In the NBPD press release, Cop was quoted as saying, “[The new Neighborhood Police Team] capitalizes on the positive relationship between the Rutgers Police and the New Brunswick Police, and will facilitate the exchange of information between the two departments to improve public safety,”
A previous program under the same name began in March 2012, after a wave of gun violence in the fall of 2011, including the highly controversial police killing of Barry Deloatch.
That Neighborhood Police team targeted the “Unity Square” neighborhood, located between George and Sanford Streets, and Livingston and Commercial Avenues, according to a report by Jennifer Bradshaw.
Miller, himself a former member of the old NPT, refused to indicate which officers were a part of either of the neighborhood police teams.
“I will also not be releasing the names of officers involved in any of the NPTs. The old NPT is still in operation,” Miller said in response to New Brunswick Today’s questions.
Part of the NPT’s mission will be educating students on “how not to be a victim.”
The NPT will engage students in dialogue, encouraging them share their concerns with the officers… [and educating] the students on the importance of common sense as it relates to safety and security in a college neighborhood.”
The release also claimed that drug use and distribution had increased, connecting that with an increase in violent crime. Captain Miller did not immediately provide statistics to support these assertions.
“Students should also be mindful that with an increase in the use and distribution of illegal drugs, there has been a corresponding up-tick in violent crimes often associated with drug activity.”
The statement also was critical of the nightlife in the neighborhood: “The numbers of people frequenting the bars in the area and attending neighborhood parties until the early morning hours creates an atmosphere ripe for detrimental or criminal behavior.”
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.