ERMA – The Lower Township Police Department's (LTPD) annual report shows a decrease in several areas, including DWI arrests and aggravated assaults.
The LTPD issued its 67-page annual report Jan. 27, highlighting its activities over 2022, including pursuing a stolen vehicle with the owner hanging off it. The owner was injured but survived, and the car thief was arrested and charged.
That incident was probably the most hair-raising event handled by the LTPD in 2022, which also saw a hoax active shooter call at Lower Cape May Regional High School. The department must react as if it were an actual event, but, thankfully, it was not. A second hoax call reporting an active shooter at the school occurred Jan. 23, 2023.
The LTPD has 50 full-time police officers, four Class II officers and six civilian employees.
One of the changes seen in 2022 was the increased number of officer-initiated calls, which went from 8,029 in 2021 to 28,086 in 2022.
Police Capt. Don Vanaman said the reason is, whereas the Lower Township dispatchers used to provide more services than the Cape May County dispatchers do, the individual officers are now recording more of the calls using the mobile data terminals (MDTs) in their vehicles. Vanaman said the old term for creating a call for service, which is still used, is “punching a card.”
“If the call comes through 911, the dispatcher punches the card, but we were given a new protocol about a year ago, and it reduced the burden on the county,” Vanaman said.
A figure in the annual report that seems like a positive is the number of aggravated assaults in Lower Township. Vanaman said it is not immediately clear why the numbers are down. He said that while he would like to say aggravated assaults are down, the fact is some of them are reported as domestic violence calls.
“Domestic violence trumps the call,” Vanaman said. “In New Jersey, anytime you get a call showing injury, it’s an automatic arrest.”
Any serious injury is considered an aggravated assault. The LTPD report breaks down total domestic violence incidents and those that involve assaults.
In 2022, there were 499 domestic incidents in Lower Township, with 79 recorded as involving an assault. That assault number is down from 96 in 2019, 86 in 2020, and up from 70 in 2021. Vanaman said any time there is a dispute between members of a household, whether they are related or not, it is recorded as domestic violence.
Vanaman said the decline in arrests for DWI is a result of increased enforcement measures.
“Our department is fairly aggressive in regard to DWI arrests and people know it,” Vanaman said. “As our enforcement has gone up, the numbers are going down.”
In 2019, the LTPD made 94 DWI arrests. There were 88 in 2020, 78 in 2021, and 70 last year.
Vanaman said that with the use of body cameras, beginning in 2017, there is nothing left to the officer’s discretion, which led to more accountability with DWIs. There is now video evidence when officers administer field sobriety tests.
Vanaman said, in addition, there is more awareness about the consequences of driving impaired, for example, from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign.
Also, with the proliferation of Uber, Lyft, and taxi services, people are more inclined to leave their cars at home when they know they are going to consume alcohol.
Vanaman said the LTPD Patrol Division is ranked 47th out of about 500 agencies, which puts them in the top 10%, and they have been number one in the county for several years. He said that helps when the state awards grants.
There was an increase in the number of thefts in the municipality, going from 128 in 2019 down to 105 the next year, 110 in 2021, and then increasing to 162 in 2022.
“With thefts, there are a lot of factors. If one person breaks into 10 cars, you have more thefts because of multiple victims,” he said.
Vanaman said part of the rise in the number could simply be due to an increased level of reporting. He said there are more people with doorbell cameras or outside security cameras who are more likely to report a theft if they have video evidence. Then there are people who use their cell phones to report crime.
“People now, more than ever, call, text, or email the police to report crime,” he said.
He noted that a lot of other crime areas are similar across the board. Motor vehicle theft has remained fairly level and dipped from 10 to five over the last year. Vanaman said car theft in New Jersey is up 217%.
Overdose deaths are down in Lower Township, which is the site of a pilot CARES program that sends team members out to the site of an overdose.
Individuals from the hospital generally speak to the victim, while someone from law enforcement talks to the family members. All the first responders are trained to administer Narcan, which counters the effects of opioids, but a lot of civilians are being trained to use it and have Narcan available. Vanaman said some people will administer Narcan to an overdose victim and not report it.
The LTPD has several goals for 2023, including improving police visibility, such as through additional bike patrols. The department hopes to promote juvenile resiliency through increased police interaction with children. The detective division has a juvenile officer who will be developing a curriculum on how the police handle juvenile matters.
The complete Lower Township Police 2022 Annual Report is online at https://lowertownshippolice.com/annualreports.php.
Thoughts? Questions? Contact the author, Christopher South, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-886-8600, ext. 128.