Chief: Police, Despite Understaffing, Gets Job Done
Anthony DeZenzo says, "We are not seeing any crime committed because we are understaffed."
Parsippany Police Chief Anthony DeZenzo said citizens should not be overly concerned whether there are enough officers on staff to keep the township safe.
Some residents have expressed concerns over a perceived increase in burglaries, particularly of homes throughout the town that have been entered forcibly through slider doors. The map shows a number of these cases that took place in the months of March through May this year.
"I can see where people may think that," the chief said, "and at this time of year, when the weather is getting warmer, you can see increases. But that's cyclical. To think that there is a rash of burglaries going on, well, that just isn't true."
DeZenzo concedes that the number of people employed by the PPD is down. Optimal staffing would have 111 officers, including command personnel, on the roster. Presently, the department has 91 sworn staff, according to its June 2012 administrative report. Working with officers are 29 civilians (including support staff, animal control officers and part-time employees) and 47 regular and substitute crossing guards. All told, 167 people work under the Parsippany Police umbrella.
He also admits he did use the words "near dangerous" at municipal budget hearings this year to describe departmental staffing levels. DeZenzo said that statement was meant to impress upon the Town Council the need to hire new officers.
To a degree, the hyperbole worked. His budget request for four new officers was granted.
"But three are retiring, so in the end, I am getting them replaced and getting one new officer," the chief said. "The bottom line, though, is that the township and its residents are safe.
"We are capable of protecting this town, and we are doing it."
Here are Parsippany's crime stats:
The above table, which focuses on property crimes and presents the numbers the PPD reports to the N.J. Department of Public Law and Safety, contrasts what took place between September 2010 and September 2011, when former Chief Michael Peckerman retired, with what took place in the first nine months of DeZenzo's official term.
There were an average of about 15 burglaries per month during Peckerman's last year. Under DeZenzo, that average dropped to about 11.5.
For larceny and theft cases, statistics tell a different story. Theft cases under Peckerman averaged about 28 per month. Under the new chief, that average has risen to nearly 33 per month. The number of cases solved, however, is still higher under DeZenzo.
For motor vehicle thefts, the DeZenzo PPD's monthly average is 1.77, slightly lower than Peckerman's 1.92 average.
While burglaries have declined, there have been about five additional thefts each month.
"The staffing with regard to patrol and with regard to the visibility of police officers is not much different than it was when we were at full strength," the chief said. "The impact has been on some of the ancillary positions: From two to one school resource officers, from two juvenile detectives and a sergeant to one juvenile detective.
"The staffing of patrol has always been a minimum of six at any given time, and we've really not been below that," he continued. "and if we continue to go below that, we offset it. When you look at the size of the municipality, it is my opinion that we should not have less than six officers on the road. It's a judgment call."
He added that the number is not one mandated by the state or any agency.
"That being said, each squad consists of 11-13 patrolmen, three sergeants and a lieutenant, so that's the staffing you have. By the time you have somebody out sick or on vacation, sometimes we're teetering around that six number and to keep it from going below that, we pay to fill in the gaps with overtime if need be. The lower our staffing goes, the higherthe overtime goes, but we still are not suffering from a staffing perspective as far as response is concerned."
DeZenzo attributes the spike in burglaries as presented in the map not to staffing issues, but to a trend.
"I would love to have more cops, extra patrolmen, SROs, detectives, professional standards—I can think of a lot of things—but we have what we have."
What Parsippany has, according to the police administrative report, is one chief and one deputy chief, three captains, six lieutenants, 16 sergeants, 56 patrolmen and eight detectives.
For example, the department Table of Operations shows that in the patrol division, there are teams of four or five patrolmen under a sergeant. The sergeants of three of these teams report to a section lieutenant. There are four of these lieutenants, and they report to their division commander, who reports to the deputy chief. Additionally, the division includes traffic patrolmen who answer to a sergeant who reports to the division commander.
DeZenzo insisted that this setup is adequate.
"We are not seeing any crime committed because we are understaffed," he said, adding that a good number of crimes are getting solved as well. "I would say that we're probably in the average of 'solveds.' I would be remiss to give you a number, but we do make a significant amount of burglary arrests, criminal mischief arrests."
And he said they take each burglary seriously. He said the department takes the time to analyze data, to draw correlations between various incidents and to seek out patterns that can help solve crimes and prevent future ones.
"Solving cases is sort of like baseball batting averages," he explained. "You'll go 10 games without a base hit and then suddenly, you'll hit three home runs in a row.
It's difficult to pin down a specific number."
He joked that too many people watch police procedural dramas like television's "Law and Order."
"In an hour, people see two homicides solved in an hour," he said. "For us, in real life, it's a month of filling out reports, processing scenes, interviewing people. In an hour, they had a shootout, they shot somebody, chased someone else, called headquarters—'Send two guys, I got one down!' Come on. You saw what happened in Mountain Lakes. That place was turned upside down for a week.
"Listen, if all we handled was homicides, aggravated assaults and burglaries, we would handle policing very differently. But this is Morris County, where we are unaccustomed to violent crime on that level. Thank goodness."
DeZenzo said he doesn't want the public to get any false impressions.
"The numbers are what they are, and they're accurate," he said. "And I go over them each week with my command staff to ensure that calls are dispatched correctly, categorized correctly and we ensure that the correct police action is taken.
"I've been here 30 years and I haven't seen that done here before. But that is what we do. That right there is the nucleus of what we're all about."