Middle Township special unit fills in the gaps

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Marcus Phillips is part of the Middle Township Police Department bicycle unit, shown here in 2012. He's also a member of the Special Services Unit. Marcus Phillips is part of the Middle Township Police Department bicycle unit, shown here in 2012. He's also a member of the Special Services Unit.Marcus Phillips is part of the Middle Township Police Department bicycle unit, shown here in 2012. He's also a member of the Special Services Unit.

From drug raids to jaywalking, police team changes focus every day

MIDDLE TOWNSIHP — Each day their responsibilities change, but their duty to protect the public remains the same.

Sometimes Middle Township officers James Loftus, Marcus Phillips and Jason Sweitzer find themselves as part of a team that raids homes in the municipality after learning about possible drug activity.

Or, part of their day could include sitting in a local business, chatting with citizens over a cup of coffee. There, they’ll try to get to the heart of what residents are concerned about.

Other times, the three police officers will scour Rio Grande, looking for people violating the law, such someone jaywalking.

Loftus, Phillips and Sweitzer are part of the part of Middle Township’s Special Services Unit, which has been in place in some form or another since 2008.

“Compared to patrol, there are a lot of things we do,” said Loftus, who is in his 15th year on the Middle Township Police Department.

He said he enjoys the change each day.

“The Special Services Unit is an invaluable resource to us because it fills in the gaps,” said Middle Township Police Capt. John Edwards.

This year, the main focus for the Special Services Unit has been on narcotics, according to Loftus. That comes at a time when the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and local law enforcement agencies are combating the spread of heroin in the county. Since January, there have been more than two dozen deaths from heroin deaths and 102 calls for reported overdoses.

Drug activity is heavy in the southern part of Middle Township, particularly Rio Grande, Loftus said. However, some of the drug incidents occur in Del Haven and Cape May Court House

Heroin isn’t the only drug. So are prescription medications, such as Oxytocin, according to Loftus.

So far this year, the Special Services Unit has participated in executing 10 search warrants and around 22 investigations involving narcotics, he said.

The Special Services Unit works with the Cape May County Prosecutor's Gangs, Guns and Narcotics Task Force.

“The county may be called in and it’s a force multiplier for them,” Edwards said.

One of those times was on Nov. 26. On that day, the special services unit teamed up with the county in raiding a home on Lehigh Avenue in Del Haven, arresting three people and seizing heroin and cash.

The Special Services Unit also serves on special details, mainly focusing on Rio Grande, according to Edwards.

Much of the crime in the township occurs in Rio Grande, he said. There are many big-box stores in that community and it’s also where routes 9 and 47 intersect, Edwards said.

Police have conducted quality-of-life details. They look for people who have warrants out for their arrests, as well as those violating the law, including someone drinking alcohol at a bus stop in Rio Grande.

They also watch out for people who jaywalk. Those efforts came after fatal accidents occurred in Middle Township, at least two of which happened in 2012 near ShopRite along Route 47 in Rio Grande. Since then, no pedestrian fatalities has taken place this year, according to Loftus.

In addition, the Special Services Unit also holds a program throughout the year intended to bring the community and the police together. The “Cops and Coffee” began in 2011 where police officers would stop and chat with citizens at area restaurants.

This month, the routine changed when it took place at United Uniforms in Rio Grande. The owner wanted to police’s program to take place there, Edwards said.

“I think it was a pretty good idea,” Edwards said.

It’s a useful service, he indicated. The police collect information, which sometimes can include where drug activity occurs, Edwards said.

“It works very well,” Loftus said. “We’ve found we get a pretty positive interaction between us and the public.”

The Special Services Unit also heads to community events. Police make appearances at the 4-H fair in July and other events and hand out information that includes seat belt safety and more.

The officers also talk to students, covering the dangers of talking to strangers when they head home from school and other topics.

Edwards said the Special Services Unit has been around since 2008.

“What we have now is probably the best fit for the department,” he said.

Plans call for more officers to be added to the police department next year. If the department grows, so would the special services unit, according to Edwards.

For more information on the police department, see middletownship.com.

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