Community policing center opens
A previously vacant Main Street storefront was bustling Saturday as Newark residents mingled with police officers, and kids scrambled to collect trading cards from the cops.
Three months in the making, the Newark Police Department’s new community policing center opened Saturday at 134 E. Main St., a space last occupied by SAS Cupcakes.
“The point is to have the center become a place the community can come in to talk with police,” Master Cpl. Jay Conover said. “The Newark community and police have always had a good relationship, but this can only improve it.”
Modeled after a similar concept in Mystic, Conn., the community policing center is a partnership between NPD and developer George Danneman, who owns the building. Danneman is allowing the police department to use the space rent- free until the end of the year. At that point, city officials will evaluate whether to budget funds to continue using the space.
The center contains a large conference table for meetings, and the walls are decorated with photos and memorabilia from throughout NPD’s 150- year history. Containers near the door contain coloring books, crayons and stickers for young visitors, and blue lights in the window signal when the facility is open.
The site is intended primarily to be a place for the community to interact with police officers during events like “Coffee with a Cop.” However, it also gives NPD a home in the heart of downtown, and Conover said he expects some people to come in to report crimes or ask questions. But, because the center won’t be continuously manned, anyone needing emergency assistance should call 911.
The department hasn’t worked out an exact schedule, but officers will be in the center as often as they can. It will be primarily staffed by the special operations unit, a community policing unit that has the flexibility to address specific crime and disorder problems as they arise and often deals with Main Street bars and other issues downtown.
“We’re trying to make the police approachable,” said Lt. Dennis Aniunas, who brought the idea to police leadership and city council. “I think that’s the problem with society today is people look at this uniform and they make a judgment for better or for worse.”
The center opened just in time to coincide with NPD’s trading card program, which invites kids to collect all 100 cards featuring NPD officers and specialized units in order to win prizes donated by local businesses, including a trip to Disney World.
On Saturday, a steady stream of kids walked into the community policing center to collect cards from Conover, Master Cpl. Morgan Fountain and Sgt. Greg Micolucci, as well as NPD civilian dispatchers.
Conover’s gregarious person- ality suited him well as he greeted kids, asked them about their schooling and autographed his trading card, which depicts him playfully arresting Star Wars characters.
Taking a break during a lull in the action, he noted that kids were lined up eagerly for trading cards while he and other officers were still setting up for the event.
“This brings us all together,” he said.
Master Cpl. Jay Conover hands out trading cards to Bella and Alexander Williams, ages 9 and 7, at the new community policing center on Main Street.