The Police Department responded to fewer “major” incidents 2012 than in past years. Speeding tickets were down. Car crashes were way up, and so were drug busts.
In all the department, short-staffed by between six to 10 officers throughout the year, handled 17,422 incidents, compared with 20,774 in 2011, 20,950 in 2010 and 19,849 in 2009.
“I give credit to the officers for maintaining the workload,” Chief Roche said.
The department has said for some time that its short staffing has impacted traffic enforcement, but manpower was a bigger problem in 2012.
Six new officers filling vacancies throughout the ranks were in various phases of training throughout the year, and four remain in training.
“The turnover [was] not just at the police officer positions. We saw a lot of ranking officers leave the department,” Chief Roche said.
All the new hires were new to the profession, meaning they had to undergo six months of academy training followed by field training for another three months. Throughout that whole time, they are not certified officers and can’t patrol on their own.
Chief Roche has been lobbying for two officers to re-fill vacancies that have essentially been “frozen” for the past few years
The chief said the department’s ranks were down as many as 10 other officers — the six who were in training and not on the road, and four officers out on leave with injuries.
“Even though we were down that [many officers] we were only down 3,000” in number of incidents handled, Chief Roche said. “We’re still getting a lot of calls for service. Our workload is increasing.”
Overtime for the calendar year was around $159,000, and short-shift overtime amounted to some 2,734.5 hours — or 53 hours per week — Chief Roche said. Short-shift overtime is only for regular shifts, not extra assignments like bolstering staffing during Sandy, or helping Newtown after the shooting, or increasing patrols at the schools here.
In 2012, police issued 778 radar citations, down from 1,128 in 2011 and 1,873 in 2010. The number of warnings went up to 828, from 813 in 2011 and 495 in 2010. The department issued 1,299 non-radar vehicle warnings in 2012, compared with 1,751 in 2011 and 1,026 in 2010.
Traffic enforcement can take a back seat to emergency incidents that officers must handle.
“When the calls for service increase, the officers had less time to address other issues like speed enforcement and other enforcement issues,” Chief Roche said.
Police reported some 69 drug-related offenses, but 65 of those were incidents where an infraction was given for possession of a small amount of marijuana, which was re-classified as a misdemeanor in 2011. That 69 figure was much higher than 27 in 2011 and 39 in 2010.
Chief Roche said the reclassification of possession of a small amount of marijuana to a misdemeanor makes enforcement quicker. When someone has less than half an ounce of marijuana, the officer can simply issue a ticket, which doesn’t require them to bring the suspect to the station for processing.
“The officers can process these things faster. It’s easier to hand out a ticket and continue,” Chief Roche said.
However, he spoke out against the law that made the penalties less harsh for minor pot offenses, saying that it sends the wrong message about the seriousness of drug use. He said he hadn’t seen enough data to judge Tuesday whether the easier enforcement had or had not been a benefit.
“Does it cause people to stop smoking marijuana? I don’t know,” he said of handing out tickets.
Car accidents shot up to 800 in 2012, compared with 671 in 2011, 668 in 2010 and 677 in 2009.
That means police handled an average of one accident every 11 hours, as opposed to around the rate of one every 13 hours that has held true for several years.
Five of those accidents involved pedestrians, similar to past years; one involved a bicyclist, down a bit from 2 and 4 in past years.
Eleven accidents involved intoxicated drivers, who were among the 32 arrests officers made for driving while intoxicated in 20112. That figure was 23 in 2011, 52 in 2010 and 33 in 2009.
One accident was fatal — the one-car crash on Farmingville road that killed a well known Ridgefield man near his home when his car struck a tree. Police responded to one fatal crash each year since 2009.
Chief Roche said the spike could also be manpower related.
“Visibility and having an officer present out in the field… I think translates into a safer environment for everybody,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s human nature if they see a police officer around they don’t speed.
Chief Roche said he does think drivers are becoming more and more distracted, too.
“I think it relates to drivers habits… We’ve seen a lot of accidents because drivers are not paying attention.”
“We do a special squad that goes out and does isolated enforcement issues,” Chief Roche said. “They could do seat belts they could do cell phones…” But he said they have had to disband.
“I have to maintain a standard patrol pattern before I do extra stuff,” he said.
There were some 75 criminal arrests in 2012, compared with 72 the previous year, 57 in 2010 and 67 in 2009.
Those range from things like vandalism to burglary, shoplifting.
Police responded to nine burglary incidents, which means illegally entering or remaining in a building with the intent to commit a crime. There were 15 in 2011, 11 in 2012 and nine in 2009.
The past year’s burglaries included a home that was broken into by teens while the family that lived there was on vacation and used to host a drinking party where some $48,000 worth of jewelry was said to be stolen in June. There was also a home invasion in May, where some $100,000 in jewelry was reportedly taken and a spree of thefts from unlocked cars the same month.
“We’ve had some very complicated cases,” Chief Roche said. “The men and women of this department have really held up their own.”
Larceny, or theft, is more frequent than burglary.
There were some 118 larceny incidents in 2012, which include shoplifting and writing bad checks. That’s in the ballpark of past years: There were 101 larceny incidents in 2011, 128 in 2010 and 133 in 2009.
Juvenile incidents were up at 46 in 2012, compared with 33 in 2011 and 35 in 2010.
Criminal mischief — vandalism — was down, with 80 total incidents, compared with 82 in 2010, 121 in 2011 and 104 in 2009, though there was severe damage done to two school sports fields. The town made the extremely rare move of offering a $1,000 reward for information about the August incident in which someone caused deep ruts in the Scotland and Barlow Mountain, but no arrests have been made.
Domestic incidents were on par with past years — 147 in 2012, 149 in 2011, 138 in 2010 and 133 in 2009. Those can vary greatly in severity.