While the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging to society as a whole, it was especially challenging to Lawrence Township’s first responders, from police officers to firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Police Chief Brian Caloiaro outlined the impact of COVID-19 on the Lawrence Township Police Department’s operations – from issuing fewer traffic tickets to fewer calls for service and a steep decline in major crimes – at the Lawrence Township Council’s Feb. 16 meeting.
Each year, department heads – ranging from the Health Department to the Department of Public Works and the Construction Department – share their budget requests and offer details on what their department has accomplished in the preceding year with the Township Council.
“It was a very interesting, difficult and challenging year. Law enforcement was very different. We had to change the way we did policing to keep the officers and the public safe (from the virus),” Caloiaro said.
There were no in-person roll calls at the beginning of shift changes for the officers, Caloiaro said. Police officers conducted more business on the telephone rather than in person, for the safety of the officers and for that of the callers, he said.
Comparing 2019 to 2020, major crime overall decreased by nearly 20%, Caloiaro said. There was a steep drop in the eight major crimes that make up the Uniform Crime Report – from 645 crimes in 2019 to 517 in 2020.
The eight major crimes in the Uniform Crime Report – from murder to arson to burglaries and car thefts – are reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by every law enforcement agency in the United States every year.
There were no murders in 2019 or 2020, but the number of reported rapes was the same at 10 each in both years.
There was one reported case of arson in 2020, compared to two in 2019.
Assaults went up by three in a year-to-year comparison – from 119 in 2019 to 122 in 2020.
But robberies declined, from 11 in 2019 to eight in 2020.
Burglaries dropped from 73 in 2019 to 61 in 2020, and the number of larceny/thefts went down from 408 in 2019 to 291 in 2020.
Motor vehicle thefts went up by two, year over year, from 22 stolen cars to 24 stolen cars.
While the decrease in the eight major crimes could be attributed to the COVID-19 lockdowns, it did not apply to domestic violence, Caloiaro said. The reports of domestic violence went up from 168 in 2019 to 227 in 2020, or by 35%.
Police issued fewer traffic tickets in 2020 because of the drop in cars on the road due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Officers issued 2,708 traffic tickets in 2020, compared to 8,927 in 2019.
Officers arrested 25 intoxicated drivers in 2020, which is a drop from 37 intoxicated drivers in 2019.
Looking ahead, Caloiaro said turnover among police officers due to retirement may present a challenge. Over the next five years, 24 of the Lawrence Township Police Department’s 56 officers will be eligible to retire – seven of them alone in 2021, he said.
Five new police officers have been hired to replace retirees, Caloiaro said. It takes about one year before a new police officer is ready to patrol alone, including the time that a new police officer spends in the police academy.
When Township Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis said the new recruits – four White men and one Black man – do not reflect the makeup of the community, Caloiaro said it is partly due to Lawrence Township’s participation in the state’s Civil Service program.
Would-be police officers must take the Civil Service exam and then are ranked according to test results. A municipality must choose one out of the top three ranking test-takers. If a candidate is a military veteran, he or she is “bumped” to the top of the list, Caloiaro said.
The Police Department goes to college fairs to attract police candidates, but “it makes it more difficult with Civil Service,” Caloiaro said. There is a requirement that would-be police officers must live in Lawrence Township when they apply for a job at the Lawrence Township Police Department.
“I am a firm believer in homegrown police officers. They have a sense of pride in the community because they grew up here,” Caloiaro said.
Township Councilmen John Ryan and Christopher Bobbitt thanked Caloiaro and all of the Lawrence Township police officers – from the patrol officers to the sergeants and lieutenants – for their dedication.
“Thank you for everything. You are a great leader and you have a great command staff,” Mayor Jim Kownacki told Caloiaro, acknowledging police Lts. Joseph Amodio, Timothy Drew, Joseph Caloiaro, Joseph Lech IV and Christopher Longo.