UNION, NJ — A new study has ranked Union as the 41st safest municipality in the United States and the 11th in New Jersey.
SafeHome, which reviews security companies, used 2015 data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for the study that ranked municipalities with more than 50,000 residents.
SafeHome examined violent crime and property offenses, which were determined to be areas of crime that Americans fear most.
Union Police Director Daniel Zieser said earning the ranking is the result of a team effort between the men and women on the force and on the Union Township Committee.
“The Union Police Department is honored by the ranking we have received,” Zieser said in a Nov. 9 statement. “This is a direct result of the dedication and professionalism of the women and men of this agency. It also reflects the unwavering support from the township committee and administration.”
Violent offenses decreased from 2015 to 2016 by about 24 percent, according to the FBI data. There were 62 violent offenses in 2016, down from 82 in the previous year. The latest year that data was available was 2016.
“They try to stay out of Union as much as possible because of our aggressive patrol posture,” Zieser said, referring to violent offenders. “It’s good police work and sometimes just a little bit of luck.”
While violent crime is down, property crime went up from 2015 to 2016 in Union, FBI data showed. There were 846 property-crime offenses in 2015, compared to 879 in 2016.
Zieser said that trend has continued so far in 2017, with 69 vehicle break-ins in 2016 compared to 114 so far this year. He attributed that increase in part to the state’s bail-reform program, implemented in January. He said nonviolent offenders of property crime are released too quickly and given the opportunity to repeat the same offenses.
“They’re out the door before we get done with the paperwork,” Zieser said in a Nov. 9 phone interview.
The other factor contributing to the increase in property crime had to do with personal responsibility. The largest driver of property crime, he said, comes from people not locking their car doors.
“A lot of people just don’t lock their cars,” he said. “Usually, if we get a block hit, they’ll hit every car that’s unlocked. … Lock your doors. I don’t know if they have a false sense of security, but all you have to do is push a button.”
Older cars are usually stolen more often than newer ones since they have fewer security features, Zieser said.
Meanwhile, there have been two violent deaths in the township this year, Zieser said, the same number as in 2016.
In May, 20-year-old Jeff Adams was charged with murder in connection with the fatal stabbing of his father. A township teenager was accused last month in the fatal shooting of Jose Diago, 19, authorities said. Willy Rodriguez-Gil, of Union, faces a robbery charge in that incident.
There have never been more than two homicides per year in Union for about the past decade, Zieser said. For example, FBI data showed there were zero homicides in 2014.
A majority of the homicides that do occur stem from domestic violence, he said.
“Domestic violence, especially if we’ve never had a call before, they’re hard to prevent. They’re the hardest to prevent because they happen indoors.”
There was at least one high-profile Union murder trial that the media focused on this year, but it occurred in 2013. In that case, Matthew Ballister was found guilty in October of first-degree murder and second-degree desecration of human remains in the death of his girlfriend, April Wyckoff.
Publicity of cases such as the Wyckoff murder can influence perceptions of a community’s safety, authors of the SafeHome study said.
“The media can often make living in America feel very unsafe,” it said. “There are many reports of violent crimes happening all over the nation that can undermine the importance of feeling safe where you live.”
FBI data shows that there were 134 police officers in Union in 2015, compared to 133 in 2016. There were an estimated 58,512 residents in the township in 2016, according to U.S. Census data.
The police director said he may request additional officers if more residents move into the township with new development here. The number of police officers could also be affected in future years due to retirements, Zieser said.
“The township committee is already committed to ‘if I lose one, I get one,’” Zieser added, referring to replacing retired officers with new recruits.
The 10 safest municipalities in the state ranked in descending order by the study are: Parsippany-Troy Hills, Middletown, Piscataway, Jackson, Howell, North Bergen, Bayonne, Edison, Brick and West New York.