Evesham Police Department Boasts Newly Expanded Role in Providing Community Services, Probing Crimes Using High-Tech-Equipment Gifts

A substantially expanded scope of responsibility now being assumed by the Evesham Township Police Department, both as a provider or facilitator of social services through a new three-way partnership and in its having been gifted some cutting-edge crime-fighting capabilities, was outlined at the April 10 meeting of the township council.

The department’s recently acquired human and high-tech proficiencies have not only broadened the dimensions of the services it offers but are now making many aspects of its job much easier and more efficient, according to Police Chief Walt Miller, who told the council members that some of these developments are tentatively scheduled to be aired on a news broadcast by Channel 6, the Philadelphia ABC affiliate, later this month.

One area in which such innovations will allow the Evesham police force to play a more pro-active role is that of crisis intervention, which will now be provided on an expedited basis by both its officers and the department’s new social worker, Della Hayes, an employee of Volunteers of America who recently began working within the department and who was introduced by David Simmons, a representative of the organization’s Delaware Valley Chapter with whom the department recently teamed up.

That partnership, as Miller noted, also includes Legacy Treatment Services, a multi-purpose social service agency whose Telehealth division has chosen his department to help initiate a pilot program that will enable its officers to make technology-based on-the-spot determinations in situations involving subjects who may be suffering from mental health, behavioral or substance abuse issues. If it proves successful here, he told the Pine Barrens Tribune, the two organizations are hoping to expand it throughout the eight-county-region of Southern New Jersey.

In his monthly report, the chief also provided some details of two high-tech-equipment gifts, worth approximately $ 25,000, that the Evesham Police Department recently received, which he contended “are going to have a major impact on our investigative abilities.” These donations, considered among the most advanced digital innovations currently available to law enforcement, include software that is already allowing the department to extract evidence from the cell phones of suspects in child exploitation investigations, making it the first department in the state to be able to do so rather than having to wait weeks or even months for such results.

The Telehealth pilot program, as Miller described it, is one that utilizes three cellular pads that can be used by officers in the field to quickly determine whether an individual with whom they’ve come into contact and who appears to be suffering from a psychological issue needs to be treated at a mental-health facility, or whether “there will be some kind of plan for later care that will allow us to leave,” he said. Prior to having this technology at their disposal, he said, the officers involved might have had to wait a lengthy period of time – possibly hours – for an expert to arrive on the scene and make such an evaluation, increasing the risks inherent in the situation.

Should a commitment to a mental health facility appear to be in order, he said, “they’ll upload the required document that wi ll enable them to take the individual into custody right through the iPad.”

Prior to having this software at the department’s disposal, the chief noted that situations such as one in which an officer had to wait three hours watching an individual who was wearing a bulletproof vest, “would exceed our capabilities” so that “a lot of times, when we were done with the call, we would leave and the root cause of the problem still remained.”

“Now with this, it takes about 90 seconds to make the entry, which continues that service, whereas before that service would end,” Miller declared.

While helping “navigate” people to the right mental-health resources is also something which Hayes might address, based on the nature of the reports she is given by the department at the start of each day she is on the job, there are also a number of other social problems that she attempts to resolve in the course of her daily routine, ranging from homelessness (which has become a particularly prevalent one at a time of increasingly less affordable housing) to providing people with help for aging parents.

One example she cites of a case she is particularly proud of having resolved is that of a man who was found sleeping in the lobby of the municipal building on a Monday night.

“I was able to house him by Thursday,” she told the council. “That was a big turnaround for us.”

The new social worker, Miller noted, also has “an entire umbrella throughout the state that supports her in her mission here.” And when department personnel see it working successfully, he said, “it reinforces that program, and makes it stronger.”

That is where we are at right now,” he noted. “We have significant buy-in from the department, getting our staff to believe in it.”

In response to a quest ion from Democratic Mayor Jaclyn “Jackie” Veasy about the method used to coordinate Hayes’ activities with the department, Simmons explained that “if she is here and there are any kinds of issues, the officers can report directly to her, and give her a call.” After she leaves, he noted there is a database that can be accessed by the entire department from the command staff down to patrol officers, all of whom have been trained to provide a detailed description, either via their cell phones or a computer in their patrol cars, that she can act on when she arrives for work.

As Miller characterized the results realized so far, “We’re about two months in, and have managed to keep Ms. Hayes pretty busy so far. We have several hundred people in the community she has already impacted.” (Plans currently call for a second social worker to be added to the department’s capabilities, Miller told this newspaper.)

One of the benefits of working with Volunteers of America, he noted, is that the organization maintains its own shelter, which can only be accessed via the police department, and which over the past couple of months has managed to provide homeless individuals with a temporary refuge from the elements, with the help of “a vehicle that is here and that is accessible.”

“That alone is worth its weight in gold to the police department,” he declared. “It is tough when it is the middle of the night and it is cold and there is no place to house someone. Having somewhere to place them has been a blessing.”

An additional advantage he cited has been the department’s ability to facilitate the “bridging of services we weren’t able to connect with, and we now have resources for,” part of which is provided by a certain amount of state funding, he said.

Al l – told, he said, the program is “ me et ing and exceeding our expectations.”

The department, Miller told this newspaper, has already begun doing forensic analyses of suspects’ cell-phone contents in child-exploitation cases using the ground-breaking GrayKey Axiom Software for which it was given a one-year license financed by a $17,000 grant from a nonprofit group called Operation Underground Railroad that solicits donations from private sources to support police departments engaged in investigations of this type. Miller credited Evesham Police Sergeant Ron Henry with having “identified this grant opportunity,” for which the department was ultimately selected.

“If we’re successful, we’ll be renewed next year and the year after that, which may be an ongoing grant opportunity that we can get every year,” he said. “And that is actually the hope right now, so we’re excited.”

While a court order is still required to take such information from someone’s cellphone, the chief further told this newspaper, in the past, accessing that digital data once such an order was granted would have required going to the prosecutor’s office or the state police, and waiting for them to similarly accommodate a wide range of law enforcement agencies.

“Now we can do it as soon as we get it,” he maintained. “If a phone (or tablet) is used and the data is on the phone, it is easily recoverable through this technology, which removes all data from that device and allows us to do an analysis.”

Another new technological advance that has also been made available to the department through a donation, this one from the Police Foundation, is a Motorola portable automated license plate reader, which enables the tracking of license plates that repeatedly show up in parts of the community showing a “ pattern of crime,” and which according to Miller, “will have great investigative value for us” in identifying suspect vehicles.

“That is roughly about $25,000 in equipment that was received at no cost to Evesham residents, and that’s going to have major impacts on our investigative abilities,” he emphasized.

Both donations were accepted via resolutions approved by all five council members.

The chief also reported that the department’s recent recruitment effort has brought in almost 90 applicants, which he called “pretty good right now,” since a lot of police departments are also hiring.

On another matter, Miller said an increased number of patrol officers were about to be assigned to areas “where we have increased numbers of crashes related to distracted driving,” with one of the most obvious violations being cell phone use while driving.

“So please put the phone down and just drive,” he urged.

In other business, the council unanimously approved as part of its consent agenda a local cannabis business license to Floro Evesham, LLC, allowing it to operate a Class 5 cannabis retail operation within the township. A resolution to that effect noted that the enterprise had met all the requisite conditions for operating such an establishment, including being granted a conditional license by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission and receiving conditional approval from the Evesham Planning Board.

The resolution, however, was predictably opposed by resident Gary Warga, who while finding “nothing wrong with this particular company that I know of, said he opposed “all licenses for over-the-counter cannabis, which he called “a drug that needs to be regulated across the country,” contending, as he has on previous occasions, that “regular use of high potency cannabis results in psychoses and violent psychotic behavior.”

One resolution not included in the consent agenda, which amended the organization, duties and responsibilities of the Evesham Township Green Team, was approved by the council despite the abstentions of Veasy and Councilwoman Heather Cooper, whose “concerns” about its wording included its not allowing “for flexibility to make changes.”

Taking part in the meeting in observance of Local Government Week, and being allowed to sit alongside councilmembers, were representatives of the Evesham Youth Advisory Council, with the late former Republican Councilwoman Deborah K. Hackman, being posthumously recognized with a memorial presentation for having been instrumental in its formation.

Hackman, a science teacher and physical fitness buff, died unexpectedly last March from cardiac arrest.

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