Brick Township’s new police chief has hit the ground running in his first few weeks on the job, setting in motion plans to potentially realign the department’s patrol districts and expand a fledgling Neighborhood Watch program.
Chief James Riccio said during an interview with Shorebeat that community policing will be a central focus of his efforts. There are currently two Neighborhood Watch programs active in town – in the area near Herbertsville Park and in the Midstreams section – and the department is planning to work with residents to create additional programs around town.
“For us, what I think is most important is our community policing – getting more in touch and in tune with the community,” said Riccio.
While the Neighborhood Watch programs will lead to better engagement between residents and officers, sections of town where crime issues are more pervasive will attract extra attention, the chief said. The most visible area of concern – Maple Leaf Park – may become a patrol district of its own, meaning manpower would be assigned just to that neighborhood. Riccio said that a rumored substation for the neighborhood is not the approach he will take.
“I think substations are nice, but it’s not going to accomplish what I want to accomplish,” said Riccio. “That’s identifying the bad guys, getting in their faces, making their lives miserable, and identifying the good people and building relationships with them. It’s hard to do that if you’re sitting in an office.”
Under consideration is implementing foot or bike patrols in troubled development.
“We’re not going to solve any issues by sitting behind a desk,” Riccio added.
The bulk of the township’s crime issues are, not surprisingly, drug related, the chief said. To that end, the department will continue its efforts in the Brick school district, maintaining its D.A.R.E. and Lead and Seed programs, plus supporting B-Mac, the township’s municipal anti-drug alliance program. But while police officers can assist in education – and, of course, arrest those who possess and sell drugs – Riccio said more work needs to be done outside of Brick to combat addiction.
“The heroin problem needs to be addressed by people in Trenton and people in Washington,” said Riccio. “People need to be rehabilitated, and that’s where we fall short. Even if [addicts] have insurance to pay for treatment, there are no beds.”
Many of the initiatives being planned are dependent on manpower. The Brick department has a minimum of 125 sworn officers on its roster, with occasional increases depending on the cycle of retirements and new hires. In 2010, voters rejected a $2.4 million referendum measure that would have increased the roster to 140 officers.
“Could we use more [officers]? Of course – the more officers you have, the more proactive you can be – but our staffing is adequate for what we’re trying to accomplish right now,” said Riccio. “I wouldn’t want to drop any lower, and the mayor and council have been very supportive in keeping our numbers where they’re at.”
Riccio has been a Brick police officer since 1986. In the years since, he has worked on the township’s first SET Team, was assigned to the Ocean County Narcotics Strike Force, and completed special assignments for both the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and the FBI. He also has spent more than 30 years as a volunteer with the Breton Woods Fire Company and is a District 1 fire commissioner.