Cranbury police chief offers first quarter review, focusing on cannabis, COVID

Photo courtesy of Cranbury Township

Chief Michael J. Owens of the Cranbury Police Department offered the following information related to the first quarter of 2021 in a new initiative to provide quarterly reports to residents.

“January, February, and March have been busy months for our officers. With several weather events, we have been active with 53 crash investigations thus far including one fatal crash within the first week of March. Additionally, our officers have been extremely active with motor vehicle enforcement within the town, monitoring speeding within the village area, and active with the increase warehouse traffic as well. Our speed signs will be deployed soon as the weather continues to warm.

Owens addressed the state legalization and decriminalization of cannabis.

“Two things that are important to note: First, the bill for legalized cannabis has passed and presents some new challenges for law enforcement. Cranbury police are committed to providing the highest level of police service and we believe that community partnership and increased engagement begins with open communication. Recent changes in state laws will alter some aspects of policing, specifically for certain notifications about juvenile activities and notifications to their parents, and we want the public to be aware of the new laws.

“The governor has signed three bills into law regarding marijuana decriminalization. Though regulated cannabis, for recreational use, is not yet available for legal purchase in New Jersey, the laws have changed how law enforcement must enforce possession of marijuana. Specifically, the new law addresses the process for how minor(s) in possession of marijuana or alcohol must be handled by all police officers in New Jersey. The law establishes a new framework for individuals under the age of 21 who possess or consume any amount of marijuana, hashish, cannabis or alcohol in any public place, including a school:

* First offense: Officers shall issue a written warning, which must include the person’s name, address, and date of birth, but the warning shall not be provided to the individual’s parent or guardian.

* Second offense: Officers shall issue a written warning, and also provide the person with informational materials on community drug treatment services. For individuals under the age of 18, the officer shall provide the individual’s parent or guardian with copies of the warnings issued for both the first and second offenses.

* Third or subsequent offense: Officers shall issue a written warning and again provide the individual with information on community drug treatment services. If the individual is between 18 and 21, then the officer shall provide notice of the written warning to the community drug treatment program; if the individual is under 18, the officer shall again provide the juvenile’s parents or guardian with a copy of the written warning.

“Marijuana is still illegal; it has just been decriminalized. State-regulated cannabis will be legal for adults, over the age of 21, but that is not available for purchase within the state yet.

“As a reminder, those under the influence of marijuana should not be operating a car.

“Juveniles and young adults under the age of 21 should not use marijuana and will not be able to purchase state-regulated cannabis.

“Cranbury police will maintain a commitment to partner with organizations within the community to educate the youth on the negative effects of early drug and alcohol use and abuse and stress the effects of both on the growing and developing brain.  We will support the local Municipal Alliance and LEAD (Law Enforcement Against Drugs) programs and we always encourage community involvement for the betterment of our youth.

“Second, our officers have been facing an increased number of people that are in crisis over the last several months. I’m proud that our officers continue to show compassion when dealing with emotionally disturbed people. We all know that sometimes these calls can be unpredictable and turn violent at any time. For those that may need of any kind of assistance, a full list of resources may be found at www.naminj.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/NJSP-DMI-COVID-19-Reso

Owens also spotlighted one of his newly promoted officers.

Kenneth Pace was promoted to sergeant in October. He has been a police officer in Cranbury since 2016, completing his five years of service this year.

Pace serves as one of the township’s drug recognition experts (DRE) and is currently one of the town’s primary field training officers, providing training for newly hired officers. Pace has always been a leader in DWI enforcement and always has been proactive with motor vehicle stops, Owens said.

Currently, he is assigned to the night shift.

Pace has lived and worked in Middlesex County his entire life. He attended Kean University where he played on the basketball team and achieved his Bachelor of Arts with honors in Criminal Justice, Owens said.

Owens concluded by thanking his staff for their efforts over the past year.

The Cranbury Police Department consists of 21 officers.

“We strive to provide the best service to our businesses and residents. We work 24 hours, 7 days a week, and have been fully staffed even through the COVID pandemic,” he said in the statement.

“The Cranbury school crossing guards also fall under our umbrella. I would like to recognize our crossing guards for their daily work during this difficult year of COVID. Our guards serve a vital role in providing safe passage to our children walking to school and they do so in all kinds of weather each morning and afternoon with no complaints. I thank them for their dedication and service,” he said in the statement.