Police in NJ towns will watch your house during vacation
SOUTH RIVER — Even though summer vacations have been largely curtailed this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, some New Jerseyans are still finding ways to get away for a few days. This borough's police department wants to make sure its residents know their homes will be safe while they're gone.
South River's Unoccupied Residence Program has actually been in place for decades, but only recently have borough police made a dedicated effort to let people know about it on various digital platforms.
Those who enroll in the program are entitled to have a police officer periodically check in on the condition of their home, as time permits, for the duration of their vacation.
Well over a dozen other New Jersey municipalities offer something similar on their police departments' websites, including Bridgewater, Princeton, and West Windsor, but South River's program is now perhaps the most visible.
"I haven't really seen it pushed out by other departments on Nixle or social media like we've been doing, so I think it's important to get these programs pushed out to our community," Dispatcher Adam DeHanes, who championed the increase of the program's social reach, said.
At first, the department didn't really see a change in awareness or engagement. But that was still in the winter months. As the weather warmed — and even as COVID-19 raged — more people, particularly those new in town, took notice.
"We were kind of surprised about that. We weren't even sure what people were going to be doing for vacation," DeHanes said. "But we put it out nonetheless, and even with what I would imagine are reduced vacation plans for a lot of people this year, we still saw an increase."
The Unoccupied Residence Form is available on the South River PD website, which in itself is a change from prior years, when residents had to come to the station in person.
"We had to furnish them with a copy," DeHanes said. "They had to stand here and fill it out and then hand it back to us. Now, they can download it right from our website, fill it out, email it, fax it, drop it off, whatever they prefer."
On the form, the police request information like the destination and dates of your trip, whether you or any neighbors or relatives can be contacted, identifying characteristics of any vehicles left on your property, security alarm specifics, and if you have timed lights that come on at night.
All of that serves to help an officer know exactly what to look out for, DeHanes said.
"If he pulls up and sees lights off, that could be an indication that maybe somebody was in the residence that shouldn't have been, or may have been in the residence and shut the lights off for whatever reason," he said.
There is no minimum length of time people must be away in order to qualify for the Unoccupied Residence Program; DeHanes said anyone can fill out a form, whether they will be away for a couple of days, or a month and a half.