MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Police Department’s newly formed Community Service Unit met with members of the Hilton Neighborhood Association at the DeHart Community Center on July 19 to introduce the unit to residents and describe how it will benefit Maplewood as it grows. Detective Steven Gyimoty and Detective Sgt. Michael Palmerezzi explained how the new police division will be working with neighborhood associations amid the department overhaul currently being led by new Chief Jimmy DeVaul, who took over the position in April.
“We’re in the infancy stage, but we’re trying to really get into the community,” Gyimoty, who has worked for the MPD for six years, said at the meeting. “Each of the four officers in the unit will be assigned to a neighborhood association. Now, you have a face and a name to connect with instead of always calling the desk. We’re trying to improve the communication with the police department.”
The unit was formed in April and consists of Gyimoty, Palmerezzi and two other officers. The change comes from the reorganization of the Youth Services Bureau, which was combined with adult crime. Thanks to organizational changes within the department, officers now have the ability to be more involved in and devoted to the community, Palmerezzi said.
“This unit has more time to devote to community quality of life now,” he said at the meeting. “Before, we were focusing on a lot of other things.”
Only three months into the program, the unit is slowly beginning to take off. The department is hosting community events, like movie nights at DeHart and Memorial parks, and is increasing the number of young people enrolled in Maplewood’s Junior Police Academy. A benefit, Gyimoty said, is that community members and children are familiar with specific police officers.
“The movie in the park went really well,” Gyimoty said in an interview with the News-Record at the meeting. “We made 200 containers of popcorn and they were gone in a minute, so we know at least 200 people were there. The Junior Police Academy is up to 35 kids, so it’s coming together. If there are other things that we can address, that’s what we’re here for.”
Gyimoty and Palmerezzi also addressed how the police department is working with youth in Maplewood, creating a restorative justice program in an attempt to keep minors out of the criminal justice system. If a young person commits a crime but does not have a prior record, the police will try to avoid bringing charges against them and will instead issue an alternative punishment, such as community service. They also made it clear that the community would be involved in the process.
“We try our hardest not to put a child into the criminal justice system,” Palmerezzi said. “But the victim has to agree to it. If you’re adamant about it, we have to file charges.”
Members of the HNA were encouraged by Palmerezzi and Gyimoty at the meeting.
“This shows a real positive direction,” Jeffrey Boehner said in an interview with the News-Record at the meeting. “As someone who raised kids in Maplewood when things were different, this is moving positively.”
HNA President Carol Buchanan is looking forward to working with the Community Service Unit — specifically Gyimoty, who will be the unit’s assigned officer to the organization.
“We invited them when they told us what the new goals were,” Buchanan said in an interview with the News-Record at the meeting. “They have good goals, it’s a positive step and we hope it will get stronger. We’re excited to work with them.”
Palmerezzi said that he hopes the unit will grow in the future.
“It’s just taking off, but there’s been nothing but positive feedback so far,” he said. “We want it to stay around forever.”