Let’s start with the basics: In the past three years, there has been an increase in certain kinds of crime in Verona. Not major crimes, like homicide and murder, but the crimes that rattle our everyday sense of well-being. Crimes like car theft, larceny and burglary.
But there are other basics, too. Whatever the increase, the rate of crime in Verona remains well below that of most other towns in Essex County. And the recent spike in burglaries–61 in all categories of burglaries last year–here pales in comparison to one year in the early 1980s when a group that included several Verona High School students notched up 120 break-ins in one 12-month period.
News of any sort–good or bad–tends to travel a whole lot faster now. Even before the Verona Police Department’s RSS feed gets pushed out to this site (check the bottom right corner of the home page), many of the elements have already made their way around town through cell phones, Facebook and Twitter. When it’s news that a neighbor’s house or car has been broken into, it seems to travel even faster, amplifying its impact on our psyche.
From 2009 to 2011, Verona had one murder, the killing of attendant Daniel Pritchard at the Sunoco gas station on Pompton. That kind of crime leaps out in western Essex County because it is so rare. While Newark had 80 murders in 2009 and 91 in 2010 (the State Police have not yet released the crime statistics for 2011), there were no murders in any of the towns that immediately surround us in the last three years. In 2009 and 2011, Verona had just two robberies (the taking of something from a person by force); in 2010 there was one. Simple assaults, a crime category in which the victim fears violence but none happens, have fallen from 27 to 18 from 2009 to 2011.
But this is not the kind of crime that most people in Verona think about, or fear. We worry about burglary and car theft, and both categories have seen an increase. In 2011, according to the Verona Police Department, we had 61 burglaries in all categories (attempted forcible entry, unlawful entry and forcible entry), up from 24 in 2010 and 27 in 2009. Larceny–the kind of crime that occurs when your lawn mower disappears from your yard or the cash you left in your car goes missing–rose from 76 in 2009 to 81 in 2010 and 105 in 2011. But actual car thefts have spiked, too. They rose from just two in 2009, to eight in 2010 and 18 last year.
While the crummy economy may be driving this, there may be other factors at work: A car theft task force that included law enforcement members from Essex and Union counties was disbanded by budget cuts during the recession. And too often, we don’t take the simple precautions that could foil thieves. We leave our cars unlocked and our house keys in predictable places. (We’re not alone. Just this week, two luxury cars were stolen in Cedar Grove after their owners left them unlocked and idling.)
So crime in Verona in certain categories is up. That’s serious, yes, but a fraction what’s been going on around us. While the crime reports compiled by the State Police note just 24 burglaries in Verona in 2010, Cedar Grove had 20, Livingston had 47, Millburn had 55, West Orange had 131 and Montclair had 184. Newark had 1,955.
Here’s something else to keep in mind. Overall crime across Essex County has been falling for more than a decade. While the total crime rate (crimes per 1,000 residents) was 18.2 in Verona in 1996, it had fallen to 8.9 in 2010. In Cedar Grove, the rate fell from 28.5 to 11.0, and Montclair dropped from 54.3 to 19.4. Even Newark dropped, from 134.1 to 47.6.
And if there is an upside to crime, it is this: Verona is being more vigilant. When a group of men flashing FBI identification showed up on Hillside Avenue on Tuesday afternoon asking questions about “foreigners” in the area, residents called the Verona Police. No, we still don’t know why they were there. The Newark office of the FBI has not responded to our phone call or e-mail.