Crime is down in most categories in North Bergen and Guttenberg, except for certain types of thefts.
The number of murders in North Bergen dropped from two in 2012 to zero in 2013, rapes from seven to six, auto theft from 111 to 78, and larceny from 495 to 428. The numbers of aggravated assaults increased over the same period from 44 to 51, while burglaries increased from 124 to 136 and robberies from 36 to 43.
Guttenberg had much smaller numbers, and a similar downward trend (see sidebar).
Officials were pleased with the trends. They also noted another trend: more criminals are being arrested.
“Our arrests are up significantly from last year,” said North Bergen Police Chief Robert Dowd. “Which means my men and women are working harder than they ever have. Looking at arrest numbers from 2012 to 2103 we went from 802 to 960. So I know we’re closing more cases; we’re working harder. I know my officers are motivated.”
Murders decreased from 2 to 0 and rapes from 7 to 6 between 2012 and 2013, while assaults and thefts increased slightly over the same period.
Murder and rape numbers down
In 2013 there were no murders reported in North Bergen, down from two in 2012. “The unfortunate thing with murder is you really can’t prevent it,” said Dowd. “If somebody’s mad enough at somebody, it’s a split second thing. What you can prevent is if you see gangs, large groups of kids fighting, troubled locations.”
Still, there are preventative measures. “There’s the age-old ‘crime triangle,’” he continued. “Scholars say for a crime to happen there’s a triangle. You have to have a location, you have to have a motivated offender, and you have to have a victim. And the idea of the triangle is if you can break one of those legs off, the crime can’t happen. You can go after the offenders. You can target the victims, like crime prevention meetings, community meetings, neighborhood watches. Or location — crime prevention by environmental design. We see the lighting is poor. We see the shrubbery is too high. We see it really needs a camera because we can’t get the officer to patrol as much as we’d like because it’s a remote portion of town.”
Rapes also decreased from seven in 2012 to six in 2013. All incidents, in both years, were domestic, meaning the perpetrator and victim knew one another.
“These are either relationship or familial or some type of domestic situation or an acquaintance rape,” said Dowd. “None of these were stranger rapes. We didn’t have any of those.”
Although the North Bergen police are always first responders, rape falls under the jurisdiction of the county prosecutor’s office, which has a Special Victims Unit to investigate the crimes. “Which I’m happy to have happen because they have advanced training and they really are the experts in that,” according to Dowd.
Due to the domestic nature of the incidents, solvability is very high, so the perpetrators are typically caught.
Assault and theft up—except car theft
Aggravated assaults increased from 44 in 2012 to 51 last year. Aggravated assault is defined as when one party causes serious or significant bodily injury to another.
“A lot of times we see aggravated assault in domestic violence situations,” explained Dowd. “Husband hits the wife with a telephone. The wife smashes a bottle over her husband’s head. One spouse stabs another. A lot of times it is a crime of passion. It’s unfortunate but we see that a lot.”
Robbery was also up, from 36 in 2012 to 43 in 2013. “Some are offender based,” said Dowd. “By that I mean if you have a really good burglar, they can break into many homes before you catch the guy. Because they’ll hit two or three a day. And then sometimes once you get that guy, you’ll have none for weeks. We started a burglary squad about four or five years ago. We were averaging like 400 break-ins a year in this town 10 years ago. Now we’re down to a little over 100. And the reason is because we’ve learned to really target these career criminals. We go after them, follow them, do surveillance. Eventually they hit. Some of them were good for 50, 60 break-ins a year. If you’re fueled by a drug dependency, this is your job.”
Last year the police targeted and caught a particular couple that was responsible for a series of robberies, contributing to the spike in numbers.
Also up are burglaries, from 124 the prior year to 136 in 2013. “The only thing I can say is that 124’s the lowest number we’ve ever had—ever—in the history of the department,” said Dowd. “It was so low that it had to go somewhere. Experts all say the same thing: trends have to eventually adjust. We’re at such a low point that we almost expect it to go up.”
Motor vehicle theft, on the other hand, is down dramatically. “Some of it’s the technology,” he said. “There’s all kinds of technology with these new cars. They’re very hard to steal. But another big part of it is proactive patrol. We employ automatic license plate readers. We employ CCTV surveillance. We’ve got 114 cameras in town.”
When North Bergen first began employing cameras in 2006 the thought was to keep them covert. But it quickly became apparent that they were a better deterrent when they were obvious. “We actually hung signage up: CCTV cameras here,” said Dowd. “We want people to know. And people want more. We did a study and we were surprised; over 90% wanted them in their neighborhoods.”
The cameras are expensive--$8,000 each—and have been purchased using grant money, with 14 added last year. They are moved from location to location as appropriate and there’s even one built covertly into a vehicle for undercover narcotic surveillance.
The CCTV cameras all feed back to an operations center that monitors the town. “We’re stopping a lot of things before they happen, which is a great thing,” said Dowd. But although the CCTVs contribute to a decrease in crime, they also paradoxically drive up some of the crime statistics.
“We’ll see a rise in certain crimes like narcotics,” said Dowd. “Not that narcotics distribution wasn’t happening, but we weren’t catching it. Now we’re catching people with the camera; we see an increase.”
The police department also monitors social media when appropriate, such as when a threat on the high school was recently reported.
But he said that sometimes, old-fashioned police work is the best.
“You gotta burn a little shoe leather, meet people, talk to people to find who’s breaking into houses,” he said.
He offered the example of the couple that was caught committing a rash of robberies last year. A police officer did extensive legwork checking jewelry stores to find where some of the stolen pieces were resold, and determined the name of the woman involved. Then utilizing CCTV monitoring they located the woman and her unknown accomplice, arresting them.
“That’s a perfect example,” said Dowd. “We had old-school shoe leather and new school we used the technology to track them.”
For more information
Annual reports on the number of crimes committed in North Bergen are available on the police website (www.northbergenpolice.com) and on the State of New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety site (http://www.state.nj.us/njsp/info/pdf/ucr/current/012414_crimetrend.pdf). Statistics vary slightly between the two sites due to the way they are compiled. The state site includes crimes handled by other agencies, such as the Port Authority or NJ Transit that don’t get reported to the North Bergen P.D., thus numbers may differ by one or two over the course of the year.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guttenberg crime decreases except for larceny, assault
Following a similar trend to North Bergen, Guttenberg saw a decrease in major crime from 2012 to 2013.
There were no murders in Guttenberg in 2013, down from one the previous year. Assaults dropped from 24 to 14 over the same period, a decrease of 42 percent.
Burglary decreased from 43 to 23, while the number of motor vehicle thefts decreased from seven to six.
The only categories to see an increase were larceny and robbery. The number of larcenies (unarmed thefts) went up from 78 in 2012 to 83 the following year, while robbery incidents doubled from 11 to 22.