Crime Concerns and Burglary Prevention A Focus Of Montclair’s First Ward Meeting

Montclair Police Chief Todd Conforti, joined by Deputy Chief Wilhelm Young, attended First Ward Councilor Bill Hurlock’s community meeting to address a string of break-ins in the First Ward, starting around Thanksgiving weekend and occurring as recently as Friday, December 14, when homes were broken into on Lorraine, Buckingham and Glenwood. The meeting, on the Thursday before Christmas, was packed with residents, concerned about crime in their neighborhoods.

Montclair Chief of Police Todd Conforti, joined by Deputy Chief of Police Wilhelm Young, answers questions regarding break-ins and burglaries at First Ward Councilor Bill Hurlock’s Community Meeting.

The majority of the break-ins were crimes of opportunity, Conforti said, with suspects gaining entry to homes via unlocked doors. There were a few instances where a back door or window was broken or tampered with to gain entry.

“Never once have any of these crimes been violent,” said Conforti, adding that the criminals want to get in and out quickly, grabbing what they can, in some cases in the short time between an alarm going off and police arriving. The burglars are often taking pocketbooks, laptops, wallets — items people tend to put down when they first come into their home.

“If someone hollers, if they see motion lights or a dog barks, they [burglars] are going to leave, so the basics are lock your windows, lock your doors, have that motion light on, put the light on your porch at night,” Conforti suggested. Alarms, alarm signage and motion lights were cited often as deterrents.

Conforti could not share any details about the investigation, but said the police were hoping to make an arrest soon.

A number of homeowners reported having the Ring video doorbell; Conforti said the police hope to partner with Ring to get more information to the police department that might be helpful in investigating these crimes. Conforti said while video can be helpful, often the burglars are wearing masks that cover their face. He recommended being vigilant and encouraging neighbors to keep any eye out for anything suspicious on their streets, including car license plate numbers.

Deputy Chief Young offered advice for homeowners planning to go on vacation.

“If you are going away and your house is going to be unoccupied, please use the vacant house checks that the police offer. It’s not a guarantee that we are going to protect your house 24/7, but we do check on residences when we know owners will be away,” said Young.

Residents can call the Montclair Police main number – 973-744-1234 – to request a vacant house check. Young also said residents can ask MPD’s Community Service Unit to come out and do a security survey of their home.

Conforti also recommended stopping mail or having someone pick it up for you. “When people see mail piling up in mailbox, they know you are not home.”

Despite the uptick in break-ins, Conforti wanted residents to know that “Montclair is a safe town, a great town, and not a big crime problem.”

“In 26 years, I haven’t once see a burglar get violent,” Young said, responding to resident concerns for safety. “I have seen a burglar get caught by a homeowner who became violent. That guy was in bad shape when we got there.”

Residents might be seeing more police presence in the area as well as some undercover officers they won’t necessarily see or notice.

Confort urged residents to pick up the phone and call police, rather than emailing or posting suspicious activity on social media.

“Don’t be be afraid to call – even if it ends up just being a deer, we’ll come check it out,” Conforti said. “If you think something is suspicious or someone might be on your property, just call.”

Councilor Hurlock praised the Montclair Police and recalled his own experience on ridealongs with police that gave him a better handle of what they encounter, both in the First Ward and throughout the town.

“They are very, very responsive and we have a great working relationship,” said Hurlock, adding that when there were issues at Mountainside Park, the police increased patrols and made arrests. Hurlock also referenced the spate of businesses broken into a few years ago in Upper Montclair and the quick apprehension of suspects.

Hurlock also acknowledged the Police Department’s recent accreditation from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, calling it a “great accolade and well deserved.”

Keep Montclair Public Library in End of Year Giving

Ilmar Vanderer, a proud board member of the Montclair Public Library, asked if residents had received the Library’s giving campaign solicitation.

“Even though the town’s budget for library is very generous, we are still not back at the levels we were before a drastic budget cut about 10 years ago,” said Vanderer, adding that everyone’s individual contributions put together make a huge difference.

“Everyone from a toddler to a centenarian can visit the library and will find something for them,” said Vanderer, who added that library programs include free summer lunches for low income families, a local history collection, an early literacy program, résumé help, test preparation and tax advice.

Mountainside Park Baseball Fields

Public Works and Parks Superintendent Rob Bianco gave a quick overview of improvements coming to Mountainside Park.

“We are renovating all the fields at Mountainside. The main reason is that the fields retain water which results in a loss of playing time,” said Bianco.

The town will spend $568,000 on the project and has hired Suburban Engineering, because of their expertise in ball field knowledge design, to oversee construction.

Bianco said the town has worked hand in hand with the baseball & softball clubs as well as the Recreation Dept. and finance committee.

“It will be a turf infield, sod outfield, with a sprinkler system, as well as a batting cage similar to the one at Kaveny Field,” said Bianco, adding that there would also be new bleachers on third base. The biggest factor — underground and pitched drainage — would make the fields much more usable.

Bianco said the paths at Yantecaw Park were also close to being finished.

“The asphalt is done, all the paths are done, but we still have to do restoration — the soil around the sides and the seating,” said Bianco. The town will hold a substantial amount of money until the entire project is completed and done to satisfaction.

Hurlock added that the town is watching contracts closely and making sure money doesn’t go out door before work is completed.

“In the past, the town had been paying bills on work that wasn’t complete,” said Hurlock. “But this council is more aggressive about that. We are taking taxpayer money very seriously.”

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  1. Too bad Chief Conforti discontinued publishing the annual MPD report, as Chief Sebagh did. That had useful information on crime and arrest rates by location, trends, size of department, and so fourth. Curiously, even the old reports that were on line have been removed from the Town and MPD websites. The Town Clerk was unaware the reports had been taken down and obtained hard copies from the MPD and provided electronic versions to me (happy to share if anyone is interested).

    I can’t say for sure but I suspect MPD removed the old reports to avoid begging questions like, are crime rates trending up, and, why did you quit publishing annual reports? Too bad, because the MPD reports had more detailed, local information than alternative state and federal sources. Weird too, b/c MPD seems to expand its force every year so they seem to have capacity to publish a report. “Coffee with a cop” and tet-a-tets like above only go so far; it would be useful to have the same level of quantitative information we had under Sebagh.

    Have certain classes of crimes in certain neighborhoods trended up in last several years? Only the MPD knows for sure and they don’t seem to want to share the answers.

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