MILLVILLE – Some recent shootings here have a local Crime Watch organization asking city officials to appoint what amounts to armed citizens to patrol troubled streets.
Crime Watch of Millville wants the city to appoint constables to supplement efforts by the local Police Department.
Allowed under state law, the constables, who would not be paid by the city, can make arrests and perform other duties associated with regular police work, said Crime Watch of Millville president Mary Messeck.
“I would say it would be something that should really be looked into very deeply,” Messeck said. “We’ve had a rash of … shootings. This would be a way of bringing more manpower to the streets. It’s a known that that the more presence you have the more deterrence you have.”
But city officials said they are far from at ease with the notion of having constables on patrol.
“It’s not going to go anywhere with us,” said City Commissioner David Vanaman, whose duties include overseeing public safety issues.
City officials, including Police Chief Thomas Haas, have researched the possibility of having constables, but decided not to appoint anyone to the position, Vanaman said.
“It’s vigilantism,” he said. “We don’t need that.”
Haas could not be reached for comment.
The city had a recent spike of shootings, primarily in its center city area.
City police responded to five reports of gunshots during the evening of Oct. 12. One of those incidents occurred in he 300 block of Vine Street and resulted in one person shot in a leg, and another person shot in an arm.
Three people were left in serious condition after being shot in the 500 block of Third Street on Oct. 3. City police said there have been other shootings in that area, which is already heavily patrolled.
Gunfire also resulted in the deaths of three people here since April 2011. The last fatal shooting incident occurred in May.
New Jersey law allows municipalities to hire up to 50 constables. Each constable can serve for up to three years. The constables, also called peace officers, can carry weapon, make arrests and perform other duties, such as delivering subpoenas.
Messeck believes constables can work here, saying that along with possible patrol duties, they would be used for things like traffic control. That would free up regular police officers for other law-enforcement duties, she said.
“Why take an officer who is going to stop you from breaking into a home and murdering someone and put him out there to tell you that you can turn left, you can turn right, you can stop,” Messeck said.
Messeck would not say whether she thinks city police are doing a good job at dealing with crime in the center city area.
“They’re doing the best they can with what they have to work with,” she said.
Vanaman said many of the shootings that occurred here over the past few years involve out-of-town residents.
“They’re from out of the area,” he said.
Another problem is that residents will not cooperate with police, primarily by providing information about crimes that occurred near where they live, Vanaman said.
“That’s the biggest part of the problem,” he said.