UNION COUNTY — Although his challengers think after 12 terms it is time for Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich to hand over his badge and call it a day, he begs to differ.
Despite a struggling economy and tighter budgets, Froehlich said in 2012 his office maintained the certification required to stay compliant with the state. Something that is not that easy to do considering cutbacks.
Without doing much more than coming into a room, it is easy to see Froehlich takes his job seriously. A consummate professional, he spouts numbers at a rapid clip, reminding those nearby that the business of law enforcement is important to the well being of every resident in the county.
Every year Froehlich compiles a report on the prior year, going into great detail about how his department performed. This year was no different.
“This annual report describes our efforts as we strive to provide service to the community,” he said, adding that there are 158 sworn employees, 21 clerical employees and 20 security guards assigned to various divisions.
As head of the department, Froehlich is responsible for all policy decisions, budgets, planning, disciplinary actions and inter-governmental relations. The undersheriff’s report directly to him, keeping him advised on the day-to-day operations of the office.
Each year thousands of legal documents are received by this department and all must be reviewed for proper form and correct fees before being entered into the system. Last year these fees brought in $1,078,749 in revenue, which included serving process orders, sheriff’s property sales and seizing assets. Froehlich focused on one aspect of his department that is thriving, but gives one pause.
“Unfortunately the foreclosure department continues to be very busy due to a poor economy,” the sheriff said, but mentioned that the county has implemented many programs to help those facing this dismal end to home ownership.
Actually, foreclosures brought in a major chunk of the revenue this department realized: $780,070.
Froehlich pointed out that law enforcement is a career that requires its officers to keep abreast with changes in technology, patterns of crime and drug trafficking, not to mention changes in the law. Continuing education, he said, is mandatory in order to be prepared to handle the complex challenges his officers may encounter.
Although residents may not hear much about this department and what they do throughout the year, it seems the action never stops.
In 2012, for example, there were 478 requests for assistance to other agencies, such as local municipalities, the prosecutor’s office and county police. This included locating missing persons, detecting narcotics and searching buildings. The sheriff’s department also responded to 29 calls for assistance to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency, New Jersey State Police, U.S. Customs Agency, U.S. Postal Police and U.S. Secret Service. The department also has a six-man, ten-dog unit ready to perform complicated tasks, which require a high level of expertise and professionalism, the sheriff said. Officers assigned to this unit conducted 35 canine demonstrations last year to various schools, and civic and senior organizations in an effort to educate and enlighten over 4,000 members of the public.
The operational divisions are made up of the control center, courthouse security, probation services and bureau of criminal identification. While most people would not notice, this division screened 1.3 million visitors last year at the county courthouse complex.
The courtroom security unit is responsible for maintaining the integrity of 23 courts, the grand jury and various hearing officers assigned to the court. A major function of this division is to transport prisoners to and from the courts. While that may not sound so difficult, Froehlich said it requires vigilance on the part of officers because the courtroom environment is open to the public.
Last year, 14,859 prisoners were moved from the jail to courtrooms.
The county bureau of identification was responsible for processing and fingerprinting 10,714 individuals in 2012, in addition to maintaining all records, logs and jail sheets for the collection of DNA.
While residents go about the business of living, working and playing, somewhere in the county at any given time, a crime takes place. When it does, the major crime unit, fire investigation unit and high tech security infrastructure unit are on the scene. Last year the major crime unit, which is responsible for processing all homicides, handled 330 crime scene investigations.
This department responds to calls for assistance from local police departments involving forensic investigations and are members of a statewide Crime Scene Investigation Task Force. In 2012 officers from this department responded to 26 homicide investigations, five police officers involved in shootings and 299 other forensic investigations. Froehlich said the sheriff’s office operates 16 hours a day performing a wide variety of services to the county; many that residents will never see or hear about. One is the investigations unit and fugitive unit.
Last year this unit had 1,220 defendants arrested and committed to the county jail even though there are only two road sergeants and 10 officers. This unit is responsible for locating and arresting persons wanted by the courts for jumping bail, probation violations, not appearing in court after indictment, juvenile offenders and domestic relations warrants.
But if you think the number of actual fugitives probably are low in number, think again. As of Dec. 2012, there were 4,006 active fugitives on the roster.
Froehlich firmly believes that participation between various law enforcement agencies at the county, state and federal levels is critical for the efficient operation of any agency.
Interestingly, there were 2,804 restraining orders received and 1,362 served. The Union County sheriff’s Office and Elizabeth Police Department created a joint Family Violence Unit. This unit not only serves restraining orders and visits families of victims shortly after violence occurs, but also ensures that the rights of all parties are explained and the proper help obtained.
The SLAP program, or sheriff’s labor assistance program, saved taxpayers $1.3 million. This program is an alternative to incarceration for people sentenced by municipal or superior courts.
“It is essentially a public work program supervised by the sheriff’s office,” Froehlich said, explaining that participants are closely screened and must meet rigid eligibility requirements.
SLAP officers in 2012 supervised details in 21 union county municipalities, saving local governing bodies thousands of dollars in maintenance costs.
“The total savings to residents, based on these offenders not going to jail was $851,580,” the sheriff said, noting that the benefit to the offender is that they remain free with little interruption of their personal or professional lives.
Last year, 788 defendants were allowed to participate in this program, with 265 completing the program and 564 returned to the court. However, the total number of daily assignments tallied 6,308.
In 2009 Froehlich began a new program, one that would include youth. The Sheriff’s Office Youth Academy is open to high school students throughout the county, and is intended to familiarize youth with the role of the sheriff’s office.
“The sheriff’s youth academy is not a boot camp for troubled youth. It is designed to operate like an actual academy for those interested in law enforcement,” Froehlich said.
Sitting back and not ensuring his department is operating smoothly is something this sheriff never considers. However, he admitted that having a superior staff helps this department run like a well oiled machine.