BLOOMFIELD, NJ – Decades of police culture cannot be changed overnight. It’s a daunting task.
To take police reform seriously, a culture change needs to be done slowly, accurately, and with constant evaluation and follow up.
TAPinto Bloomfield recently had a chance to sit down with Samuel A. DeMaio, Director of Public Safety for the Township of Bloomfield, for an in-depth conversation about the ongoing police reform initiative within the department.
Question: Bloomfield has been setting the standard in North Jersey regarding transparency within their Police Department. What was the impetus to begin the reform, have a greater accountability among the officers, and strengthen the relationship between the department and the community?
Director DeMaio: “Five years ago when we started the transformation of the department under the charge of Mayor Venezia, it was clear to me that a lack of accountability was a serious problem. The lack of a professional internal affairs unit was also a problem, as they had no electronic early warning systems or officer behavior monitoring systems. A transparent department can earn the trust of the community. We have also built on community engagement and connection by creating a full-time community policing unit. This unit interacts daily with community members using programs such as Neighborhood Watch group meetings, coffee with a cop, pizza with a cop, community bike rides, summer youth academy where we have graduated over 400 middle school and HS students. They also engage with the community with bicycle patrols, Segway patrols and foot patrols with business visits.”
Question: Overall crime statistics and incidents continue to drop annually in Bloomfield. To what do you contribute the continuing decline?
Director DeMaio: “Overall crime had dropped significantly over each of the last five years. We attribute this to smart intelligence led policing and relentless follow up with commanders at constant meetings three times per week. Crime is analyzed daily by geographic areas, times of day and days of week. Police are deployed consistently and temporally where and when crimes are occurring. It’s a simple logical equation. Deploy equal percentages of your resources to match the percentage of crimes being committed in the geographical areas. If you are a fireman, you deploy your resources to the houses that are on fire. If you are the police, you deploy your resources where quality of life is being diminished and crimes are being committed.”
Question: At first, some officers were hesitant within the department to wear body cameras. Now, the officers seem to be glad to wear them as it protects them against false reports and provides a greater checks and balances system. Can you tell us about the process and the progress as to how the cameras have helped with the Reform efforts?
Director DeMaio: “We are proud to be one of the only departments in New Jersey, if not the only department, to issue a body camera to every officer in the same fashion we issue them a gun, a walkie talkie and a bulletproof vest. From being skeptical about wearing them, officers now embrace them. We have cleared officers of many more false allegations made by persons than we have found negative footage. It also gives us the opportunity to do daily quality control checks of footage to observe officer behavior. They know the camera is running and it drives their professionalism because they know management is watching.”
Question: To provide greater transparency, Bloomfield now monthly officially releases incident and crime statistics. What was behind this decision to release the stats monthly?
Director DeMaio: “I give credit to the Mayor and Council for working together with us and developing a method for us to release publicly this information monthly at council meetings. It is another tool for us to show that we are a transparent agency and will always be working hard to be a professional police organization with positive community relations and always working hard to build community trust.”
We thank Director DeMaio for his time in speaking about this important matter within our community. It is through this attrition in the ranks of the Bloomfield Police Department that has created a greater sense of leadership that now knows only one way to police, and that’s the right way.