Neighborhood Watch Programs Take Root Across Town Lines
South Orange, West Orange police help create community to lessen chance of crimes
Residents affected by a month-long rash of attempted and successful burglaries along the West Orange/South Orange border are decidedly upping the ante when it comes to safety in their community.
Working with police and community organizations, residents are trying to curb break-ins through neighborhood watch programs and increased awareness.
"The community are the eyes and the ears," said Sgt. Rich Wiggins, of South Orange Police Department, who has been working with South Orange locals to develop a neighborhood watch program for the last three weeks.
Janine Buckner, coordinator of the neighborhood watch program in South Orange, said the program began in response to more graffiti and obvious drug usage around the area, which includes West Orange's Gregory Section. The latest break-ins have encouraged residents and heightened the program's outreach.
In October, thieves struck about 21 homes along the West Orange/South Orange border, breaking and entering while residents slept or were away for work. Taking mostly electronics, the thieves appear to be targeting the Gregory neighborhood in West Orange, as well as the South Orange area of West Montrose Avenue and East Clark Place. For the month of November, so far, burglars also struck four homes near Seton Hall University in South Orange.
Maplewood and Millburn also have seen a share of attempted and successful burglaries. There were four attempted burglaries and 12 burglaries reported in Maplewood since the beginning of October. In Millburn, there were two attempted burglaries and five burglaries reported.
South Orange police also released a statement Wednesday that said they have identified two burglary suspects through forensic evidence. One suspect, according to officials, already is arrested on an unrelated charge. The other suspect, who is still at-large, is Donny Bass, 39. He is described as a black male who's approximately 5'10" with a slim build. Both are accused of burglarizing homes in South Orange's Tuxedo Park section near Seton Hall University. It is not known at this time, though, whether the two are responsible for the slew of attempted and successful burglaries in Maplewood, Millburn, South Orange and West Orange.
"Everyone across the village has been affected, especially people who live on border," said Buckner.
Buckner hopes to partner with pre-existing neighborhood associations to advise specifically on safety tips. As of now, she said there are more than 500 homes that are a part of the program.
While the program does not include actual vigilantes, it emphasizes awareness and security that does not put residents in immediate danger. Rather than patrol units roaming the streets at night, the South Orange program has Wiggins provide tailored safety suggestions after digesting police blotter reports.
"What we've been doing is trying to put together communication chains," said Buckner.
Improving communication among both neighbors and between police also is a focus of West Orange neighborhood watch efforts.
"Whenever we see a pattern developing, we'll put the word out and we try to keep the neighborhood as updated as possible," said Lt. Joe Mulvihill, of West Orange Police Department, who coordinates the township's community policing unit.
Both officials and neighbors are hopeful that forming neighborhood networks can foster working and trusting relationships between police and residents.
"Improvements can be made between SOPD and the residents of the village," said Buckner. "Having this positivity has been great for building trust."
Aside from basic safety tips, police said one of the biggest tools to resist crime is each other.
"The main point of a neighborhood watch is to know your neighbors," said Mulvihill. "Let them know when you're out of town so mail doesn't pile up."
Robin Miller, resident of the Gregory neighborhood in West Orange, said community is key to battling such crimes.
"You have to be part of the community, you have to be responsible in the community and that's part of the community — being a good neighbor," she said.
Miller said she's all in for a neighborhood watch program in her area. "This is preventive ... we don't want this to go a step further," she said.
Anyone with information is urged to contact West Orange police at (973) 325-4000 or South Orange police at (973) 763-3000.
View an interactive map marking the burglaries here.