West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi put more police officers on duty this past weekend and increased patrols as part of his plan to cut down on crime that has affected the township recently.
According to a statement released Friday by Parisi, “We have rearranged some shifts and have scheduled additional officers as well to increase evening patrols along the Main Street corridor as well as the entire Township.”
Parisi said the township is committed to ensuring residents West Orange remains a safe and viable community and we “will take necessary steps to protect our neighborhoods.”
The Watchung Heights Police Substation changed the hours it operates starting Friday. The substation will now be open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. instead of from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. The changes will remain in place moving forward, said Parisi.
Concerned neighbors in the Heights section of town also are taking action by holding a neighborhood watch meeting of their own. The meeting was attended by a handful of residents, Council President Victor Cirilo, Councilman Jerry Guarino and West Orange Police Sgt. William Varanelli.
Michelle Cadeau, who held the meeting in her High Street home, said she called for the meeting after an armed robbery on Watchung Avenue last week.
“It has been very calm here for a longtime,” said Cadeau. “So ... with the (armed robbery) incident on Tuesday, I thought it was important for us ... to have the facts.”
Varanelli said many of the robberies that happen in town are “crimes of opportunity,” and are committed by “transient” individuals passing through the community. West Orange lends itself to these kinds of crimes, he said, because of the multiple entrances and exits to major highways, and its proximity to the Oranges.
Varanelli said a lot of crime traditionally happens on the border of West Orange. He hinted West Orange and Orange police are starting to collaborate in a new way, marking a “paradigm shift” in both departments.
Parisi wrote about this and other new tactics for the police department in a recent op-ed posted on Patch.
Cirilo added the council is “looking at what’s happening and (asking) how we are going to address this public safety issue.” He said that the administration will come before the council in the coming weeks to discuss funding new police initiatives.
Varanelli said residents have to remain aware of their surroundings at night. He recommended not using headphones or listening to music, always carrying a cellphone, and not walking alone. “You just have to be hyper-vigilant,” said Varanelli.
While some residents said they felt afraid of the neighborhood at night, one resident said she does see many police patrolling the area. “It is very rare you don’t see them,” one resident said.
Davita Waiters, who also attended the meeting, said, “The meeting was very productive. ... We don’t know what (the police) are actually doing behind the scenes unless they tell us.”
Waiters, who has a 9-year-old son, said the most important issues for her were placing speed bumps on High Street, addressing the lack of lighting and seeing more of a police presence in the area.
“I don’t feel very safe at all walking around here at night,” said Waiters. “Maybe if it was better lit.
For more information about the Height’s neighborhood watch, check out the Facebook page here.