It’s one of the toughest jobs in law enforcement in the state. The city of Trenton has had a hard time finding someone to lead the police department. In the past five years, there have been six police directors. The current police director, Ralph Rivera, Jr., is marking his one year anniversary in the job today. Rivera sat down with NJ Today’s David Cruz to share his experiences of the past year.
Rivera said he felt fortunate to have passed the vetting process by the Department of Community of Affairs and to have been selected out of 56 candidates.
The challenges of his new assignment was apparent from the moment when he assumed his position as police director. He came at a time when the police force was undergoing a mass layoff.
“You had a department that approximately three years ago was at 375 officers. When I arrived there last year, they were down to 229 not counting,” Rivera said.
While he acknowledged the difficult position the mayor and the city council were in during budget negotiations, Rivera said he is the one left dealing with a police force that was reduced by about a third of its former number.
Through a grant, some furloughed officers were able to return to the force. But the number of returns — twelve — wasn’t enough, said Rivera.
“I’ll take anybody back that I can [but] it’s still not the 146 officers that I’m down from back when it was 375.”
Rivera said that overall crime in the city is down by 10 percent.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve been averaging about 3300 crimes a year,” he said. “We’re still averaging that now actually 10 percent lower as of April right now with 146 less officers.”
When asked specifically about the rate of murders and violent crimes, Rivera said “some of them have gone up, some of them have gone down,” adding that shootings have gone down from last year.
As for the erosion of public confidence, Rivera took a national perspective, saying that his police department is confronting the same challenges as those of other urban cities.
“I have my blackberry on with the New Jersey ROIC, that’s the Regional Operations and Intelligence Center, and that tells me all the different crimes that are going on throughout the state and also throughout the country,” Rivera said. “Here in Trenton, we are no different than any other urban environment that is experiencing the things that we’re experiencing here with the spikes in crime.”
In getting his message out to the public, Rivera said he wants to present the whole, unvarnished truth.
“I’m not one of those types of directors who’s going to be masquerading that everything is fine or we’re full force,” he said. “The reality of life, the brutal fact is that we have a police department that is down from in its height 146 officers. We’re doing many innovative things to try and address the crime problems that we’re facing, but we need those officers back. That’s the bottom line.”
To stem the tide of crime in the city, Rivera said his department will have to work in collaboration with state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. He’s also looking for support from church leaders.
“We’re now establishing a clergy academy. We’re looking to bring on the church and get the message out to people, how to protect themselves, how to help themselves avoid being crime victims.”