TOMS RIVER – Not everyone who shows up at Toms River Township’s Police Department walks in with a problem. Some come hoping to be part of the solution.
Around 30 township residents appeared at police headquarters as part of the town’s Neighborhood Watch group. Meetings are on the first Thursday of most months and run for just one hour, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Before last week’s get-together, representatives from at least two dozen Toms River neighborhoods had already met with local law enforcement officials.
Lt. Gene Bachonski of the police department’s Community Affairs Division began a presentation with a review of materials covered when the group last met in June.
Bachonski suggested those unfamiliar with the concept of “Run, Hide, or Fight,” as it pertains to active shooters, should check either the FBI or Division of Homeland Security’s websites. Many might be surprised when it comes to making the right choice when confronted with someone looking to harm with a gun.
“We’ve seen the biggest baddest people that look like they’re ready to fight anybody,” Bachonski shared. “When a critical incident happens, they are hunkering down and don’t want anything to do it.”
“And then, we’ve seen people who don’t look like they would take action,” continued Bachonski. “Take action.”
The purpose of the Toms River Neighborhood Watch groups is by no means vigilante in nature. Instead, the local law enforcement agency hopes that everyday citizens can provide help by following a now familiar mantra. “If you see something, say something.”
The Toms River Township Police Department employs 162 officers, with approximately 100 on patrol during multiple shifts. Tips from residents often prove helpful and are answered according to their significance.
Bachonski recalled when someone called in to report a person from outside the neighborhood was sitting on a bench. The individual wasn’t doing anything wrong, but the individual who notified authorities felt they looked out of place.
“It was a relatively low priority call because this wasn’t even a suspicious person,” Bachonski explained. “There was a concern about why it took the police so long to get there. So I had Sgt. Daniel Ruiz look into it for me.”
Ruiz was also at the Neighborhood Watch meeting and nodded his head as Bachonski explained what else was happening in town when the department received the tip. Five patrol officers were on one call, while another responded to a motor vehicle crash. It all came down to a matter of priorities set for every call.
One of the critical things stressed with calling in suspicious activities to police included a reminder. Reports should be made because something just doesn’t seem right about their behavior – not because of someone’s skin color or religion.
During July and August, the Toms River Township Police Department responded to a total of 12,526 calls for service, which breaks down to 202 calls per day. Bachonski ran through the statistics and commented on some of the events.
Local police answered several calls regarding juveniles on the beach at Ortley Beach and Normandy Beach. Bachonski referenced changes in New Jersey law that many police officers find have essentially tied their hands when dealing with minors.
“Certain laws have been changed regarding marijuana and juvenile justice law that have given juveniles more power than they should,” said Bachonski. “Juveniles are telling police to go away, and there’s nothing we can do about it – and they have marijuana and alcohol on them.”
The challenges on the beaches involved hundreds and hundreds of kids. Some of the problems amounted to criminal mischief complaints, like the group who decided to take down a stop sign. Juveniles have also done damage to bathrooms and equipment in local parks.
Special Police Officer I Max Garris, who started with Toms River Township Police eighteen months ago, added some of his thoughts concerning juveniles in the parks.
“We are on until 11 p.m. and represent a presence with a high visibility patrol unit,” Garris shared. “We help prevent criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, and kids seeing a police car goes a long way.”
Bachonski went on to remind the Neighborhood Watch group to lock their own cars and told the story of one family who experienced attempted thefts of their vehicles eight or nine times.
“There are organized groups that are attempting to steal high-end cars,” Bachonski shared. “A lot of people are leaving their key fobs in the cars, and they’re leaving them unlocked.”
Range Rovers and BMWs are an example of vehicles that give off literal signals that their doors are unlocked. Both pull their side mirrors in when they’re locked. If thieves recognize the cars are accessible, they may try to get into people’s garages or mud rooms to steal the key fobs.
As part of his review of the calls during July and August, Bachonski addressed the fatal shooting at the Hookah Lounge in the Silverton section of town.
“I spoke with the lieutenant in charge of the detective bureau,” said Bachonski. “He wanted me to assure everyone that the problem that occurred in Toms River is most likely not going to present itself in Toms River again.”
Bachonski said that a lot, if not all of those involved, were from out of town and that there was no threat to residents stemming from the incident.
Many of the participants in the Neighborhood Watch group related their observations before the incident. For example, some noticed the shopping center parking lot was filled to capacity late at night and was very dark. One woman wondered if there was a “pop-up party” in progress.
Discussions continued on a variety of subjects, from phone scams to people loitering on premises. The evening ended on schedule, with the group invited to tour the police station.