[Hpn] Police Chief Claims That 1/5 Of Crimes Are Committed By Homeless

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 7 Nov 2004 07:42:24 -0500



Two-week study called 'not fair' by shelter chief

By Eugene Mulero, Daily Record

MORRISTOWN -- A fifth of the crimes committed in town during a two-week
analysis period were committed by homeless people, according to a report by
the police chief that has advocates for the homeless concerned.
"A lot of these people are repeat customers," said Lt. James Wilcox, the
police department's public information officer. "We're not out there to pick
on people because they're homeless."
Elizabeth Hall, the director of the Homeless Solutions shelter in Morris
Township, criticized the police chief for identifying the homeless as the
suspects "in a relatively high percentage of crimes" in his report to the
"It doesn't help much when you attribute this to the homeless," Hall said.
"It's not fair . I'm sorry to see that."
News of the report comes after the Trustees of the Green denied the Market
Street Mission a permit to host its 14th annual coat giveaway at the Green,
citing pressure from the downtown business sector. The coat giveaway was
held Saturday at the Mission's headquarters on nearby Market Street and many
of those receiving coats were homeless.
The police chief's report was the result of a COMPSTAT (Computerized
Statistics) analysis of crime committed during a two week period in August.
The analysis "determined that homeless persons were identified as the actors
(suspects) in a relatively high percentage of crimes during a two-week
period including shoplifting, aggravated assault and strong-arm robbery,"
according to the report by Police Chief Peter Demnitz. The details of
COMPSTAT analysis were part of a monthly report the chief must give to the
town administrator.
The analysis showed that 39 of the 184 arrests (21 percent) in the period
were of homeless people. Of the 39 arrests, 24 involved nine suspects,
Wilcox said.
COMPSTAT was developed by the New York City Police Department in the 1990s
as a police management tool. The system collects snapshots of crime
statistics, which are used for tactical planning and to determine where to
deploy resources.
Demnitz said he began using COMPSTAT earlier this year after reviewing its
effectiveness in Philadelphia and New York City.
Eli B. Silverman, a professor of policing, police ethics, and police
training programs at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City,
released a book in 1999 titled "NYPD Battles Crime: Innovative Strategies in
Silverman said the COMPSTAT system devised in 1994 by the NYPD is an
efficient tool for police departments to identify criminal activity. He said
he had never heard of a COMPSTAT report identifying homeless people as a
group perpetrating crimes.
"You don't want to go after everyone simply because they are homeless,"
Silverman said. "You find out a particular subgroup of homeless who have
been identified."
James Bresnahan, 41, who has stayed at Homeless Solutions' shelter, said the
COMPSTAT report shows the majority of crimes are not committed by homeless
people, but the chief's report risks stereotyping a group of people.
"If 20 percent of the crimes done are by homeless, then 80 percent of the
crimes are done by people who are not homeless," Bresnahan said. "We're
going to be thought of as criminals; it's a small percentage of the homeless
committing these crimes."
Homeless people committing crimes in Morristown is not a new development,
according to police. Wilcox, who has been with the department nearly 30
years, said the homeless factor in crime fluctuates but never goes away.
"It's always a social problem," Wilcox said. "People go where the services
are, and as the county seat we offer better services."
Determining the number of homeless people living in Morristown is not easy
because of the population's transient nature. The county's primary public
shelter is Homeless Solutions and last year, 272 people stayed at the
In addition to Homeless Solutions, Market Street Mission takes in homeless
men, the Salvation Army has a shelter for women, and there is a program for
families run by the Interfaith Council for Homeless Families.
Homeless Solutions has seen an increase in the number of people seeking
temporary accommodations. Hall agreed with town officials that homeless
people who commit crimes should be prosecuted but hoped the crimes could be
avoided in the first place.
"A jail is a pretty expensive place to host a homeless" person, Hall said,
adding the government has a responsibility to assist residents without
The Market Street Mission, which is across the street from the former
Epstein's department store, has become the first place where homeless go in
Morristown, said David Scott, director of the mission.
During a telephone conference with Scott and the Mission's program director,
George Moussab, Scott said homelessness is increasing in Morristown and
asserted that not all homeless people commit crimes.
"We don't have a police mentality," Scott said. "Our response (to the
report) is we're trying to make the place (Morristown) more positive."
Moussab said the average reaction by local residents to Demnitz' report will
be to stereotype the homeless population as criminals.
Neither Scott nor Moussab would comment on whether the report directly
targeted their institution, based at 9 Market St.
Nor would the Morristown Partnership, a nonprofit incorporating the business
community in town, offer an opinion regarding Demnitz' report. "We have no
comment; that's a police issue," said Arnel Kernaghan, director of
development with the Partnership.
Morristown Administrator Eric Maurer, who said he received the report last
month, agreed with the chief that homelessness is "certainly a problem." But
when the homeless are "creating criminal activity; that's a problem he
(Demnitz) needs to deal with," Maurer said.
"We're not in the shelter business," Maurer said. "'This is just a reason
that we need more shelters,' is what shelter providers would say . What we
have to deal with first is law enforcement."
The COMPSTAT system is meant to provide valuable information for police to
"do the job better," Maurer said.
"The facts are facts. I don't think there was any attempt to label a class
of people," Maurer said. "I don't think anybody is saying the whole homeless
community are criminals; the facts will show what the problem is."
Jim Oppenheimer, an advocate for the homeless who was homeless for five
years in the Morristown area, said the best way to assist the homeless
population is by providing adequate shelter.
"The whole situation here is not changing. We got a shelter (Homeless
Solutions) that's full. If you are not offering any help, what's going to
change," Oppenheimer said. "The Morristown police are very nice to the
homeless people. The problem in Morristown is not the police, it's the fact
that you don't have any place to put these people."

Eugene Mulero can be reached at emulero@gannett.com or (973) 428-6627.

Copyright 2004 Daily Record.