Safer haven Crime rate down 50 percent since 1991

The latest statistics compiled by the New Jersey State Police on crime in the state are filtering in, and the numbers in Weehawken are astonishing.

The 1999 statistics represent a decrease in overall crime by 16 percent from 1998. In every crime category there is a significant drop.

The decrease also represents a continuous trend of plunging numbers. Since 1991, when the crime reached its pinnacle in the township, the overall crime index has dropped 51 percent, from 1,104 reported crimes in 1991 to a total of 538 in 1999.

"That’s a phenomenal drop," Public Safety Director Jeff Welz said. "Over the nine-year period, I don’t know if there was another municipality in New Jersey that experienced such a drop."

Mayor Richard Turner was ecstatic when he received the reports. "It shows how extremely hard the police department in a small town works," he said. "Weehawken is a town that has the Lincoln Tunnel, Port Imperial, the NY Waterway ferry terminal and Lincoln Harbor and still our numbers are down. These numbers are confirmation that our department is doing a fine job. Weehawken has been known as a safe community. This just confirms it."

Welz attributes the crime rate drop to a series of events.

"First and foremost, it has to be attributed to the hard work of the officers," he said. "They’re the ones in the trenches, the ones responding to the calls, making the arrests, on the scene. They make the biggest impact."

Welz also credits the increase in manpower. The township’s police department currently has 52 patrol officers, up from 44 in 1991. "With the increase in the police force, we’ve been able to come up with innovative programs to combat crime," he said.

When auto theft statistics started to rise about five years ago, a special unit was formed to prevent the thefts. "We were not happy with our auto theft numbers," Welz said. "We faced a lot of problems because of the many large parking lots that we have in town."

In 1997, there were 175 reported car thefts. A year later, there were 151. And in 1999, the number dipped to 121. The township has come a long way since the 230 car thefts reported in 1991.

Violent crimes have dropped nearly 60 percent, from 75 in 1991 to just 28 during the last calendar year. Burglaries have dropped from 218 in 1991 to 123 in 1999.

"There’s no question that this department is doing a terrific job," said Deputy Public Safety Director Robert Zucconi. "We’ve had crime reductions up and down the board. I don’t think there is another town with the crime reductions that we’ve had. It’s a sign that the personnel are out there and doing the job. We’ve been able to recognize where we have problems, and we’re now able to respond."

The increase in the police force has enabled the department to implement new programs such as the bicycle patrol, which was instituted last summer, additional foot patrol officers, motorcycle patrol and vehicle patrol. Deputy Police Chief Robert DelPriore has been instrumental in the implementation of the programs.

"We’ve managed over the past few years to come up with innovative programs," Welz said. "We’ve put a little pressure on the waterfront property owners to have better security systems in place and that has helped. But the increase in manpower led to an increase in services, giving a multitude of ways we can have a police presence in the neighborhoods."

Welz continued, "We now have safe streets and safe neighborhoods. Because of that, we’re able to deal with more quality of life issues, like noise complaints, loitering and public drinking. We never wanted to dilute the strength of the force and we had to do so with expansion."

Welz said that he was especially proud of the latest State Police reports, which show a decrease of nearly 20 percent in overall crime since 1991. "We are extremely proud that we exceeded the state average by almost double," Welz said. "It’s a sign that we’re doing our job well."

Turner remembers the early days of his tenure as mayor, when the crime rate was an ongoing problem. "There are a lot of residents who remember the days when there was a host of burglaries on one block," he said. "Now, there’s perhaps one burglary on one block. It’s very isolated. It’s a major accomplishment, to come this far in nine years. It’s what makes people feel safe that they’re living in Weehawken."