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Monday, June 23, 2008

Thanks, Director Chaos

The two murders that occurred within 20 minutes of each other over the weekend in Trenton probably taxed the manpower of the police force to the limit, judging by the massive decrease in minimum police staffing levels the city has experienced over the last two years.

All of this is part-and-parcel of the chaotic and detrimental ruling style of former Police Director Joseph Santiago, who apparently believes the best use of high-ranking and high-paid Internal Affairs officers is for spending hours of overtime to investigate non-favored cops, rather than doing actual police work.

The Trentonian has already reported on the minimum staffing levels situation that is causing the City of Trenton to be covered by ever smaller numbers of officers, despite a continuing crime problem.

As reported by the Trentonian's Joe D'Aquila, records obtained by police sources show a dramatic fall-off in the actual police presence in the east police district, versus the west police district, where minimum levels and the actual number of officers on the street has not fallen nearly as dramatically.

By early June this year, the east police district’s police presence had basically been halved through orders issued by the hand of former Police Director Joseph Santiago, with the 7 a.m., 8 a.m. shifts’ minimum number of cops down to four, the 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m. shifts down to six each, and the 3 a.m. shift down to three.

Only the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. shifts saw more officers out on the street than the bare minimum, and one shift – the 10 p.m. – actually had less than the minimum, probably because of office duty or some other issue.

Flash back to early June 2007, and the numbers are nearly double. The 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m. shifts all were required to have at least 10 cops out on patrol throughout the east police district, and some actually saw more than the minimum out on patrol, up to 12 officers. The 3 a.m. had five officers, up two from the present levels.

While the western district also experienced some minor reductions in staffing levels, the changes were not nearly as drastic as in the east, where through June 8 of this year there had been 420 total crimes versus the west’s 284.

The 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. shifts in the west in June of 2007 saw a minimum level of eight officers, the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. shifts, 12, the 10 p.m. 11, and the 3 a.m., six. Fast forward to the present and the numbers have dropped to six for the 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. period, eight for the 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m., and four for the 3 a.m.

The means that while the east police district, with its greatly elevated crime levels, saw its minimum staffing levels for all six shifts drop from 35 to 19, in the same time period the less crime-plagued west district saw a cut of 37 to 26.

Mr. Santiago, at a civic meeting last, said he has “succeeded in getting more cops out on the streets” than any of his predecessors. Well Mr. Santiago, these numbers certainly do not reflect that.

A truly scary situation occurred in April when an officer on duty responded to a homicide in the complex of crime-plagued housing projects off of Stuyvesant Avenue, and it bears directly on this whole issue of waning police presence and Mr. Santiago’s wasteful use of Trenton cops.

The victim had already expired, after having his head blown clean off by a murderer’s bullet, but only a handful of officers were able to respond because of Trenton’s Santiago-endorsed staffing reductions.

An ever-growing crowd of irritated project residents began chanting at the officers, apparently because they believed the victim was still alive and the police were not doing anything to help him with his “worsening” medical condition.

The officers and a group of paramedics actually began doing CPR on the murdered man, out of fear that the explosive situation could become violent due to the low number of officers on the scene and the growing number of angered observers.

At this sensitive moment one of Mr. Santiago’s response time-obsessed dispatchers contacted a Sgt. Tony Manzo on the scene and told him to report to the scene of another crime of much less significance. The officer – obviously a little stressed out – told the dispatcher that he was busy, and that if he had a problem they could “take it outside” back at the station.

No longer enjoying the favor of the former director meant that the “take it outside” comment was used by Mr. Santiago as an excuse to order a psychological evaluation, desk duties, and administrative charges.

Equally disturbing was that Internal Affairs officers allegedly spent hours of overtime work listening to the dispatch tape.

All this, while Trenton is seeing reduced levels of cops out on the streets. Thanks Mr. Santiago.


Old Mill Hill said...

Let's not forget that crime numbers are up and minimum staffing levels are down in the South police district as well.

The question has been raised more than this at least in part a retribution for Councilmen Coston and Melone (and Segura and Bethea) voting against the Palmer line on issues ranging from the dismissal of Barry Colicelli to the refusal to buy new Springfield sidearms when there was a (late) offer of free new guns from current supplier Glock?

The games of vindication played by Santiago, Palmer and the rest of the accolytes have got to stop.

Chrissy said...

Great piece, Greg; we live RIGHT next door to one of this weekend's homicides. On one hand, I do know that an increased police presence may deter (or move) crime; on the other, some stuff just can't be prevented...I think the fight over here is of the variety that couldn't have been prevented, no matter what. The police responded well, and in force, and taped off the area, and conducted what looked to be a good investigation. But it sucks to know that the east ward is a "back-burner" ward to the police director and mayor, and I can't help but wonder if more cops were in this area if maybe crime would really be down over here? Instead, it's a bit of a free-for-all in this neighborhood -- people shouting in the streets at all hours, ATVs buzzing around constantly, dogs barking incessantly, an increase in muggings, and just general mayhem. It's exhausting, and really, how much complaining can we do before we say, "Screw this, I'm leaving." This sort of crap doesn't really happen anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

When you can't take it any more and move, like so many have before you, it will make Palmer's day. He wants Trenton to be full of the poor, criminals, the mentally ill, the disenfranchised and the homeless. They tend to not show up at city council meetings and ask tough questions!