A perfect storm descended upon Hoboken on Halloween weekend, pushing the crime statistics to Lepre-con Day levels. Some of the factors that came into play: Halloween took place on a weekend with pleasant weather, the New York Mets were in the World Series, and the change back to Standard Time kept the local bars open an additional hour.
Police compared it to the first Saturday in March, before St. Patrick’s Day, when groups hold pub crawls. In 2011 during that weekend, 300 tickets were issued, 136 ambulance calls were made, and 34 arrests took place on the holiday weekend. The situation is improving somewhat. This past year, 95 tickets were issued, with 39 ambulance calls and a total of 11 arrests.
As he recited the stats during the City Council meeting last Wednesday, Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante made it clear that this year Halloween rivaled St. Patrick’s as a danger-prone weekend.
“This became a dangerous situation on Saturday night [Oct. 31] and it’s growing a life of its own,” he told the council. “Halloween in Hoboken is becoming Leprechaun [Day] 2.”
From 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., a 10-hour period, the police force responded to 196 service calls, the volume the department usually deals with in a 24-hour period on a typical Saturday.
Assaults prioritized over noise complaints
The police chief said pedestrian and vehicular traffic during Halloween weekend from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 matched that of Lepre-con Day. Three arrests were made on Friday night and 10 on Saturday. Ferrante said more would have been made had additional officers been on duty.
Fifty officers were on duty on Saturday night from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. but Ferrante feels the volume of calls and consistency will justify 100 officers for next year.
Police officer John Quinones responded to a near-riot outside a Washington Street chicken restaurant at 3 a.m. During a fight, the officer was punched in the face and sustained lacerations across the cheek. He received stitches and four people were arrested for aggravated assault at the scene.
A number of other notable crimes kept the police busy. A burglar allegedly shattered a window on the 1000 block of Washington Street before stealing a cash register. Another officer, this one off-duty and trying to catch a meal at a local pizzeria, was Tasered by a civilian who was arrested and charged with allegedly carrying a prohibited weapon and aggravated assault.
“This could be the beginning of a challenging tradition.” – Ravi Bhalla
Police Department phones rang off the hook with other crimes, like a report of shots fired at First and Grand streets, a large fight with weapons at Sixth Street, and a strong armed robbery at First Street. Officer Mike Aviles was involved in a minor motor vehicle accident when someone drove into him.
However, the department wasn’t able to dispatch officers for all the calls.
“Our computer system works as a triage where the priority calls have to be responded to first,” Ferrante told The Hoboken Reporter after the meeting. “So a noise complaint, when compared to assaults, fights, goes to the bottom [of the list]. We weren’t able to send to them because there were so many officers handling arrests. Every time you have an arrest you’re taking one to two officers off the street for several hours.”
Solved with more overtime
To cope with future Halloween bedlam, Ferrante said the police presence needs to be bolstered. The weekend cost the city $25,000 in overtime but next year the chief anticipates a need for double the officers, hence $50,000.
Regarding overtime this year, as of Nov. 2, of the $550,000 total budget, the department is $167,000 in the black. The chief said taking into consideration the trend in the year thus far, he foresees being $100,000 below the budget by the end of 2015. Therefore, it may not be necessary to increase the overall overtime budget.
Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo asked during the meeting what Ferrante felt could solve the issue: whether increasing the number of officers on the police force or upping overtime expenses.
Ferrante answered that additional overtime hours was the answer. The police work overtime during Labor Day, Independence Day, Santa-con and New Year’s Eve.
The next expected high volume day, which is also the highest DWI night in the country according to Ferrante, is the night before Thanksgiving Day.
Council President Ravi Bhalla asked if the fact the Halloween landed on a Saturday this year was the biggest factor in the heavy crime traffic. And conversely if that means Halloween next year won’t be as hectic.
Ferrante said in the past three years, local bars and businesses have begun to market the holiday as a weekend-long event and next year is expected to see the same, if not worse, results.
Ferrante said the department is in a “good position” for 2016 with a total of about 160 officers.
The police force also swore in six new police officers late last month, who completed six months of training and graduated from the Essex County Police Academy: Steven Albert, Michael Straten, Liana Palladino, Anthony Hochstadter, Sam Williams Jr, and Michael Losurdo.
“We have to send the message to the twenty-somethings out of county,” added Ferrante, “ [who are] coming to the city and doing what they did this past weekend which brings a danger to the residents, visitors and our officers.”
Neumann Leathers project moves ahead
During the public meeting, councilmembers (with the exception of 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti who was absent) voted unanimously to introduce the Neumann Leathers Redevelopment Plan (see recent cover story at hudsonreporter.com).
Much to the delight to the building’s tenants, which include well-known artists and musicians, the plan aims to turn the building into a hotspot for artists while preserving its industrial look.
The mid-19th century complex once served as a leather tanning factory. Although its developers have, in the past, considered turning it into residential housing, civic groups and the Neumann Leathers Tenants Association (NLTA) have fought to maintain it.
Still early in the planning process, not many residents spoke on the plan at the meeting with the exception of NLTA co-chair Tom Newman.
“It’s been a long trek to get here and a lot of ups and downs, but here we are. It’s a dream come true, pinch me,” said Newman, who heads the NLTA with Tim Daly. “[The plan] is a good clear strong statement of the city’s intention to preserve the building, the uses and to protect those uses and the existing tenants.”
A draft of the plan was made available to residents and can be viewed at www.hobokennj.org/docs/communitydev/Neumann-Leathers-Redevelopment-Plan-Draft-10-15-15.pdf.
The plan seeks to add retail spaces, extend the street grid at Grand Street and green infrastructure like rooftop gardens and decks, as well as aim to a reduce localized overflow conditions because the building is in the city’s most vulnerable flood zone.
The City Council already voted in 2014 to re-qualify the area as “in need of rehabilitation” which was initially done in 2011, but has not approved a plan yet.
The council voted to send the plan to the city’s Planning Board for further assessment. The board will hold a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. on the ground floor of City Hall. After the planning board meeting, the council will take into consideration any recommendations they make and integrate them into the final plan as they deem fit.
Steven Rodas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.