Mayor unveils new police unit at township address

IRVINGTON, NJ — Last year, Mayor Tony Vauss unveiled the Irvington Public Safety Department Police Division’s new Special Enforcement Response Team at his second annual State of the Township Address.

This year, Vauss introduced the Police Division’s new Threat Assessment Criminal Intelligence Team at his third annual State of the Township Address on Thursday, Jan. 26, but the mayor didn’t actually make the introductions.

“I’m the individual that has to explain what T.A.C.I.T. means, and it stands for a lot more than subtle,” said Joseph Santiago of the Public Safety Department. “T.A.C.I.T was created by Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers. As part of its annual report, T.A.C.I.T. produces a threat-assessment report that we use as the foundation for what we call the ‘summer plan.’ That’s the plan to reduce crime in the peak summer months.”

Santiago said T.A.C.I.T. officers “coordinate all information they collect” with other units within the Police Division, as well as sharing it with outside cooperating agencies, such as the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement. The new team is based on the understanding “that drugs drive crime.”

“Proactive drug enforcement gets to address people that use violence to facilitate the drug trade,” Santiago said Thursday, Jan. 26. “They also use a shooting protocol that responds to violence immediately and prevents retaliation. T.A.C.I.T. made 290 arrests last year, 60 of which were violent gang offenders.”

According to Santiago, the new T.A.C.I.T. force was responsible for officers seizing $110,000 in drug money and illicit funds, and also played a major role in reducing Irvington’s homicide rate and shootings to its lowest numbers in year. While the township only recorded four homicides in 2016, Vauss said, “Our goal is to have zero homicides, because even one homicide is one too many.”

“Based upon threat-assessment information that they provided, the township of Irvington had zero shootings through the summer of 2016,” Santiago said. “But perhaps their greatest accomplishment was reducing overall crime in 2016. The Irvington police, under Director Tracy Bowers, realized dramatic reductions in crime in 2016. They helped record the lowest number of crimes in Irvington since crime stats were first compiled in 1970.”

Santiago said Irvington’s homicide rate was reduced by 79 percent since 2014 and by 86 percent from the peak year of 2005. He said shootings were down 90 percent overall since the peak years.

“Overall, our numbers in 2016 reflect that it’s the best since the state police started compiling their biannual Uniform Crime Report,” Santiago said, before proceeding to cite the dramatic and in some cases historic reductions in the crime areas that report chronicles, including burglaries, armed robbery, motor vehicle thefts and more. “While the crime numbers are great, what they really represent is an improvement in the quality of life in Irvington. We’re creating a new reality about the safety of Irvington.”

Vauss said that was why he awarded the T.A.C.I.T. unit the 2017 Public Safety Award for Police, Fire and “everyone because we’re all part of one team.” Bowers echoed his sentiments and said the combined accomplishments of all the divisions were part of the mayor’s vision of making Irvington cleaner and safer for everyone.

“That’s just like our T.A.C.I.T. detectives, our patrol division, our S.A.F.E. and our S.E.R.T.; I get the feeling that they would do this job for free because they believe in themselves,” Bowers said Thursday, Jan. 26. “Like the mayor believed in me, I believed in them and I told you guys that, right? I said: ‘If East Orange can do it, we can do it,’ and we did it. And I’m just so proud of our police department and I thank you, mayor, for giving me the opportunity to lead it.”

Vauss thanked Bowers, Santiago and all the employees of the Irvington Police and Fire divisions of the PSD, as well as other township departments and service providers for “taking up the challenge” to make Irvington cleaner and safer since he was sworn in in 2014. He said it was all part of the “family approach” to public service “we try to teach here in Irvington” that everyone who really cares about the town has bought into, to make it into a reality.

And when it comes to policing and public safety, the mayor said police officers are on the frontlines, “cleaning up the streets,” just as the Irvington Public Works Department employees do each day.

It all began with the S.E.R.T. unit which he, Bowers and Santiago specifically created through the Office of the Mayor to clean up the streets by handling warrants, conducting investigations, clearing street corners, clearing out drug areas and providing an overall rapid response to whatever situations arise in town.

“The S.E.R.T. team’s responsibility will be to clean up the streets of Irvington,” Vauss said at last year’s State of the Township Address on Jan. 28, 2016. “I want to make it clear to everyone that we will no longer tolerate our residents living in fear. If you’re planning on committing a crime in Irvington, your days are numbered. The S.E.R.T. team is coming for you if you mess up.”

At the time, Vauss said the difference between the S.E.R.T. team and police officers is that officers take calls, but S.E.R.T. does not.

“Most of the times, when you have patrol cars and patrolmen, they’re usually on assignment,” Vauss said Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. “I know sometimes people complain they tried to flag a police officer down and they didn’t stop. That’s because they’re going from stop to stop to stop; they’re answering service calls. What we have now is our S.E.R.T. team to handle warrants; to do investigations; to clear our streets; to clear out drug areas. That’s what the S.E.R.T. team’s primary goal is — to handle our problem situation, whether it be gangs, drug activities, whatever.”

According to Bowers, the S.E.R.T. unit emphasizes rapid response to any given situation or crises in town, saying “The general police officer assignment, he will get a call from headquarters and they will go to a burglary, fire, domestic violence call, or whatever.

“These community concerns are addressed right away through the S.E.R.T. team and it’s a rapid response, so there’s no waiting in the queue. They go right out to address the matter and report to us on their findings.”