Nestled between a few areas known to get a little hairy (take Newark, Plainfield and Irvington as examples) Cranford relies on the cooperation between its own police department and a county task force to investigate and deter homicides.
Union County’s Homicide Task Force is manned by county enforcement officers and special-issued officers from municipal police departments.
Currently, Cranford provides one detective for the homicide force on an as-needed basis. This detective is sent out to fill task force assignments that do not interfere with his or her duties at the police department.
The task force was created in 2008 to serve as a dedicated source of manpower, resource and creativity to deal with homicide cases that were becoming more difficult to solve.
“We started seeing a trend of young kids in their 20s and mid-30s getting involved in gangs and drugs,” said task force Captain Carl Riley to Citizens’ Police Academy students Wednesday night. “They intimidate people and make threats to keep them from talking.”
Many of the cases they investigate are drug or gang related. Riley pointed to community involvement as the most important resource available to the task force. Yet due to gang related threats, that resource is often hard to come by.
“We get a lot of response by showing the community we’re always out there and we’re not going away,” Riley said. “One night I drove up and down a street and got on the PA system and said, ‘We’re investigating this, did anyone see anything? Did anyone see anything?’ and believe it or not we got a few calls.”
The 16 detectives on the Homicide Task Force work out of the prosecutor’s office in Elizabeth. While municipal departments can and do help with homicide investigations, all of the records are kept at this centrally located office.
“There’s less miscommunication between our guys and the police departments,” said Sgt. Dean Marcantonio of the task force. “Now everything is located in our office and comes out of our office. It’s on one report form. It gives us great control, helps speed things along, and keeps us up to date on what’s going on.”
Jumping from police department to the prosecutor’s office presents a world of new challenges for municipal detectives.
“There’s a different way to do things,” said Marcantonio. “Now you have to think like a lawyer."
Legal staff are always at hand to research warrants, call up judges, and make other court-related suggestions during the investigations.
"In police departments we just thought about how do we catch the guy, make an arrest, and drop them off at the prosecutor’s office," he said. "But we work at the prosecutor's office, so now we carry it through from A to Z. We make sure the case is sound as we put it together.”
Lt. Robert Colaneri said that only two homicides have occurred in town during his 25-year career at the Cranford Police Department.
In both cases he was either off duty or working another assignment.
“That’s 25 years and I’ve never worked a homicide,” he said. “It’s good that we’re working with these people who do this on a frequent basis. It’s good so that the cases doesn’t get screwed up… ‘cause we don’t do it that much."
The latest Cranford homicide occurred on New Year's Day in 2006. The victim, Mary Ellen Touris, 45, of Retford Avenue was found beaten and choked to death in her home by Cranford police. Christopher Pessolano, 44, of Cranford was charged and arrested for murder. He later plead guilty to aggravated manslaughter, according to police reports.
There were 282 homicide arrests made in 2008 in Union County according to the Uniform Crime Report.
Citizens’ Police Academy students also listened to representatives from the county’s Narcotics Strike Force, Auto Theft Task Force, and the Emergency Response Team. Check Cranford Patch for updates on each of these law enforcement services.