SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – More police are patrolling in both marked and unmarked units in response to a slight spike in robberies, Police Chief James Chelel said.

In a report to the Board of Trustees Monday night, he said that South Orange had 31 robberies reported in 2012. As of Monday night, 29 robberies have been reported this year. “We’ve had as high as 48 (in a year),” he told the board.

“I don’t think there is cause for great concern,” he said. “One thing I would say that in general in South Orange, you are safe. The police department is there for you all the time.”

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Chelel encouraged residents to call police any time they see something suspicious. “If you have a gut feeling, you think something is wrong, always call us,” he said. “Our response time is excellent.”

Residents also should get involved with the Neighborhood Watch, Chelel said. “We have a Neighborhood Watch that I believe is second to none,” he said. He noted that individuals who keep an eye on their neighborhoods serve as a “(police) force multiplier.”

One challenge police in South Orange face, he said, is how to keep some of the “criminal elements” of surrounding communities from coming to the village.

The chief said that robbers usually are after cell phones. “They are taken to stores in Newark where they’re wiped clean and given new numbers,” he said. He agreed with Trustee Deborah Davis Ford, who said manufacturers should be pressured to provide a simple way to disable stolen phones. “No one is going to mug someone for a phone they can’t use,” he commented.

Chelel also reported that police have identified a suspect in three “knockout” incidents and have issued a warrant for the arrest of the man, an Irvington resident.

In other action, the board:

  • Approved the $255,925 budget for the South Orange Village Center Alliance. The village contributes $168,500 to SOVCA, and additional revenue comes from an assessment from businesses in the Special Improvement District based on the amount of property tax they pay.
  • Approved a proposal from Radca to provide an upgrade to police dispatch and records management systems for $47,950. “We really need to move into the 21st century,” village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr. said, noting that the current system is “grossly outdated.”
  • Approved an interlocal services agreement to provide Maplewood with information technology services. “This is something will only not cost us anything but in the long term can actually generate some revenue for us,” Village President Alex Torpey said.
  • Adopted an ordinance that clarified the definition of what types of “live/work” units would be allowed in the Valley Street development.
  • Scheduled a budget workshop meeting for 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 16 in the conference room at the village offices.
  • Introduced an ordinance that would ask Essex County to change the speed limit on Valley Street from 35 mph to 25 mph.
  • Introduced an ordinance that would restrict parking on Western Drive. The change is designed to provide easier access for emergency vehicles, trustees said.
  • Added Edgewood Terrace to a street paving project. Lewis noted that there is extra money available because another paving project came in under budget.
  • Amended the contract with Battaglia Associates to provide chief financial officer services. The current CFO contract ends Dec. 31.
  • Designated 12 days as holidays for municipal personnel for 2014.