BARNEGAT/WARETOWN, NJ - Barnegat and Ocean Township are divided by what most consider invisible lines. They are also vastly different when it comes to population. According to Township Administrator Martin Lisella, Barnegat has approximately 25,000 people. Meanwhile, Ocean Township remains under the 10,000 mark. That said, both communities have reported differences within in their police departments. From all appearances, it wouldn't be a misnomer to classify the changes as a bit of a “pandemic effect."
First, consider the impact of Governor Phil Murphy's stay at home executive orders. They call for people to stay off the roads unless they are essential personnel or to limit their excursions for medical treatment or shopping for necessities.
One would hardly imagine there would be good news as a result of any kind of health crisis. However, residents seem to be taking the Governor's orders seriously. For starters, there's less traffic on the local roads.
Barnegat Chief Keith Germain compared his department's call from volume from March 1-13 from April 1-13. The numbers tell a story of their own.
"Motor vehicle crashes are down 60 percent," reported Germain. “First aid calls are also down 18 percent."
It turns out that overall police response calls are down five percent. However, Germain shared another statistic that gives rise to concern. In Barnegat, domestic violence calls since the beginning of April are up 260 percent, which is well more than tripled from the month before.
The idea that domestic violence has increased during the coronavirus crisis isn't exactly a local phenomenon. One family law attorney goes as far as suggesting that families are finding that being together 24/7 adds to stress levels. And, of course, worries about financial stability create uneasiness when it comes to survival.
Ocean Township Police Chief Michel Rogalski provides a statistical breakdown of his department's calls each month. In the first half of March this year, there were five accidents. In April, there were only a couple. Domestic violence complaints were at the same level.
When Rogaliski provided monthly reports of incidents from the first half of April last year and this year, the numbers showed another glaring example of changing times. From April 1-15 of 2019, police investigated 15 motor vehicle accidents. For the same time period this year, there were only two.
Both police chiefs have instituted action plans when it comes to non-emergent requests for police service. One of the major concerns rests on keeping officers safe. Barnegat's chief may have been the first in the state to switch to telephone responses when he put the procedure in place on March 4th.
"We have instituted a response code of "Code 4", which is responding to a complainant of a non-emergent request for police service with a phone call instead of an actually in person response," Rogalski also shared.
The Ocean Township's Police Department website suggests that they may also allow residents to self-report items of concern using the internet. However, Rogalski's not entirely sold on the idea.
"My whole career was spent in the Detective Bureau," he explained. "I know that if someone reports a crime they might not let us know what the real important facts are because they are not used to being a "victim".
According to Rogalski, he feels that when a trained police officer takes the call, they have the ability to ask questions and gather as much information in the beginning of the investigation and determine the next steps in a more appropriate way.
In Barnegat, online crime reporting started nearly a decade ago. The means to make a report can be found on the quick links of the police department's website.
"Online reporting starts the process, and we find it to be efficient and effective," Germain shared. "Our officers follow up for more information after the reports come in."
It's a brand new world for law enforcement agencies both locally and throughout the country. It's no longer enough to wear bullet proof vests and carry firearms. Now officers don masks and other PPEs. Police in Barnegat and Ocean Township have always taken on risks that could possibly rob their lives. However, COVID-19 exposure brings on yet another threat as far as endangering loved ones. The potential peril certainly hits homes.