The Montclair Police Department has added another layer of security amid growing concerns over violent crime in town.
Three officers — with more to come — have been assigned to a Community Service Unit (CSU), Montclair Police Chief David Sabagh announced Monday. A fourth officer will be added to the unit on Oct. 1, Sabagh said, with another two or three additions expected in the coming months.
Sabagh held a press conference to introduce the program on Mission Street, located in a section of town which saw multiple incidents of gun violence earlier this year.
Sgt. Tyrone Williams, who has served on the detective bureau for many years, will lead the Unit, which also includes Officers Jacqueline Allen and Rikki Cook.
The officers will go door-to-door, introducing themselves and getting to know residents as well as their concerns.
All three officers live in Montclair and have roots in town.
“The people here are very engrained in the community,” said Williams, who coaches basketball through the Police Athletic League.
A survey is being developed with input from local houses of worship and the local chapter of the NAACP, Williams said. The questionnaire will ask residents to share what they perceive to be issues in the community.
“We can’t fix or address problems we don’t know exist,” Williams said.
The Unit will have a mobile command center, Sabagh said, from which officers will have access to cameras, lighting and other equipment and will be able to complete paperwork and other duties without returning to headquarters.
In the days following four non-fatal shootings in early August, police presence was increased in the Mission-New street area in the form of dedicated patrols in the neighborhood and a five-member Street Crimes Unit.
The role of community policing is unique, Sabagh said, calling the officers generalists who can help with anything from addressing liter issues to pedestrian safety.
To make themselves appear more accessible, members of the unit will wear casual uniforms, including “Mountie blue” shirts, to match the color of the high school.
Officer Allen, who has been with the department for 19 years, served on the last CSU, which dissolved around 2008 when federal and state funds dried up.
Allen said so far she feels welcomed by residents in her new capacity.
“I’m finding that we are being accepted,” she said. “There are a lot of good praises. They are saying, 'Thank you guys for coming back.'”
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville said while it may appear community policing is being put in place in reaction to the recent shootings, township officials have previously wanted to fund such an effort, but have been unable to due to budget restrictions.
Baskerville said the CSU will serve the entire township, not just her ward.
“We want to feel safe wherever we are. We want to have a relationship with our police officers,” Baskerville said.