Community Policing Comes Back to Clifton
The satellite office in Botany, which hosted a Meet and Greet last week, is home to outreach efforts from the Health Department and also to the newly-revived Community Policing Division, head up by Sergeant Gary Giardina. “Our primary mission,” Sgt. Giardina said, “is community engagement and community outreach.” He explained that this is a more “boots on the ground” approach, closing some of the disconnect that can sometimes be felt between the public and patrol officers. It’s a way for the public to really get to know the officers, outside the typical situations of a crisis or crime. They are looking to build trust with the public by being accessible and approachable.
The division includes Giardina and four other detectives (Det. Wayne Stine, Det. Kevin Collucci, Det. Jaime Kincherlow, and Det. George Figueroa) who are tasked with making those connections, going into the schools, visiting various civic groups, and handling community outreach programs like the Junior Police Academy and National Night Out. They also handle quality-of-life issues throughout the city in order to leave patrol cars and detectives more available for immediate crises. The Community Policing Division may be sent out, for example, to respond to complaints about panhandlers or public intoxication. They try to take a different approach to these situations, offering guidance and offers of assistance before turning to punitive measures when possible. Their goal is both to protect the public from nuisance behaviors while also getting the appropriate help for those who may need it. Although not official policy, Giardina explained that they try first to educate. When that doesn’t work, they try to refer (to agencies that offer assistance or to social workers). If that doesn’t work either, then they will enforce. “We’re not putting the cuffs on and slamming the cell door. We truly are trying to solve a problem; not just kick the can down the road.”
Community Policing was a much larger division about twenty years ago with twenty officers stationed across five substations throughout the city. Budget cuts, reduced manpower, and general expenses eventually required the division to be shut down and those officers brought back into patrol and detective units. The new division has had great support from Chief Thomas Rinaldi, who brought it back after seeing a real need to improve community relations between the public and the police department. Each of the officers was hand-picked, each a detective with at least 15 years in the CPD.
This division is also uniquely tasked with investigating bias crimes in the city of Clifton and was responsible for canvassing the neighborhood earlier this month when antisemitic flyers were found on several lawns on Maple Place. That remains an active investigation, Giardina said. These types of crimes are unique in that they don’t only affect a specific victim or victims but everybody in a community.
Because it’s a newer unit, a lot of people don’t even know that they exist so part of their work is getting the word out. A lot of the officers have deep roots in Clifton, he said, sometimes coming from multi-generational Clifton police families. “It’s a cool partnership,” he said, “with the Health Department.”
The biggest challenge, Giardina said, is being able to be present for the many requests they receive for help or for their participation in schools or events. With just five detectives, including himself, there’s only so much to go around. The Community Policing Division does their best to be involved in as many of these things as they can, maintaining flexible hours so that they can schedule detectives on days and hours when specific events are happening. They cater their shifts to best respond to the things that are happening which require their attention.
If you need to contact the Community Policing Division, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 973-803-5716.