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A Look at Hamilton’s 2011 Crime Rate Drop of 3%

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On March 1, 2012, Hamilton Township‘s Mayor, John Bencivengo, put out a Press Release that states Hamilton Township saw a 3% reduction in its 2011 Crime Rate as compared to 2010 (see press release here http://www.hamiltonnj.com/controls/NewsFeed.aspx?FeedID=421).  The Press Release states that this information is based upon the information that the Township’s Police Department submits to the New Jersey State Police for use in compiling the Uniform Crime Report (UCR).

They say that perception is reality and my perception has been that the crime rate in Hamilton Township was rising. So, I was very surprised to read the ensuing Times of Trenton article from March 2nd (http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2012/03/hamilton_crime_rate_drops_3_pe.html) that resulted from John Bencivengo’s Press Release. As I read the article, it comes across as though the statistics provided by the Township are in actuality from the NJ State Police’s UCR.

Since the New Jersey State Police do not release the official UCR until the middle of the following year I question the wisdom of publishing these numbers, and given a 3% drop I had a general suspician that this was not the whole story. So, I  decided to investigate the numbers myself. As it turns out, this was easy enough. Let me be clear, I am not a statistician nor an Criminologist.

The New Jersey State Police publish every year’s UCR on line at http://www.state.nj.us/njsp/info/stats.html#ucr. So, given my misgivings I took the information provided in the Times of Trenton article and 2010’s official UCR data from the NJ State Police and I compiled the following table:

Year Violent Crime Murder and   Nonnegligent manslaught Forcible Rape Robbery Aggravated   Assault Property Crim Burglary Larceny-Theft Motor vehicle   theft Arson
2011 187 0 11 81 95 1817 513 1315 106 9
2010 189 2 3 101 83 1845 434 1,315 96 9

In the violent crime arena, Robberies went down by 20 and there were zero murders. That is fantastic news and worthy of being lauded.

In the Non-violent crime areas they went down 28. A great accomplishment, but premature and overlooks much.

Here are my concerns:

The New Jersey State Police have not vetted the data. Therefore, it is subject to modification.

Additionally, boasting of a reduced crime rate when half of the areas measured went up dramatically is self-serving and smacks of an underlying motiviation for releasing such data so prematurely. Specifically, Rapes increased by 8 (400% increase), Assaults increased by 12 (15% increase), Burglaries increased by 79 (20% increase) and Motor Vehicle thefts increased by 10 (10% increase) is nothing to boast about. In fact, when compared to the past 8 UCR reports, Rape, Assaults and Burglaries are at or near all time highs.

What the Mayor’s Press Release should have stated is that “though certain areas of crime are down there are areas of increasing crime, which we must remain vigilant.” Instead he takes a lot of credit for very little.

Why would the Mayor put this “not that good of news” information out and put it out so prematurely? He is very good at putting out any news that sounds like good news, but I thought it had to be a larger reason than simply touting his administration. Lo and behold, I look at his proposed 2012 budget and I think I know the reason.

His proposed 2012 Budget ramps up his Civilianization Program and decreases the Police Department by 6 officers. I surmise that in order to defend this move against any critics that he needs to put out advanced “positive” news about decreasing crime.

Now this is not a vindication of the Police Chief nor the Police Officers. I believe that the Police need more dollars and better support. A Press Release like this will undermine the need for added funding and for maintaining the number of officers patrolling our township. I suspect that the Police Officers agree.

Aside from paying to keep officers there needs to be spending on technologies and especially on Community Policing. Hamilton Township is notorious for not providing the local media timely Police Blotter from the prior night’s patrols. I have had this confirmed by both editors of the Times of Trenton, the Trentonian and various reporters covering Hamilton Township.

Providing Police Blotter information to the press is the same as providing it to the residents. But more important is providing it timely when it is still news. The Police Department’s Police Blotter posted at www.hamiltonnj.com is not updated timely.

The Township needs more funding to create a robust Community Policing department within the Police Division. A better funded department would have a civilian Information Officer to work closely with the media, assign more officers to work directly with neighborhood groups, publish and detail increased criminal activity taking place so that residents can be more vigilant and contact the Police about suspicious activity that could lead to crime prevention.

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