Toms River Police Chief Settles into new Role
The media was Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little's biggest fear when he was promoted from Captain to top cop of Ocean County's largest community a little over a year ago.
Little was a guest this week on "Townsquare Tonight" on AM 1160 and 1310 and reflected on his first year in office.
"I was never a fan of public speaking, but I was baptized pretty quick,” said Little. During the first hour of his first day on the job on January 1, there was a shooting at the Ramada Inn on Route 70.
“By the end of that day, I actually was glad I went through it so quickly. I didn’t have to worry about it. And now I actually enjoy talking to people,” he said.
Over the past year, Little has been visiting different associations, including the Elks, Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, to inform them of what his department has been doing and finding out what they need, an experience he said he finds very rewarding.
His first year also involved catching up on the various projects going on, mainly information technology type projects and of course Toms River's drug issue. Since January, there have been four heroin-related overdose deaths and 13 Narcan reversals.
“The one thing that hit me square in the face was the drug problem. And obviously that’s still a problem. I definitely did some things in headquarters to help combat that,” said Little. “We have a lot of property crime here, and a lot of it is driven by the drug trade, because obviously drug users need money. And the way they get money is usually stealing from cars or houses or shoplifting."
That led Little to make some changes in the way policing was being done, and instead of being reactive, take a more pro-active approach to deter crime or a high visibility, high traffic, high crime area patrol, according to Little.
"This group of officers specifically go out during certain times of the day and certain days of the week and just basically attack those high crime and high traffic incident areas," he said.
Little noted if residents see a lot of police on the street lately, that is the reason. He said cops also are patrolling areas where crime is not a problem.
“People want to see an officer, whether something is going on in their community or not, they still feel safer seeing an officer drive down the street, so we still continue to do that," he said.
Little's department also relies on Toms River's Neighborhood Watch Program to be its "eyes and ears." The program has about 60 members who Little said meet the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at police headquarters. It's run by Community Affairs Officer Ralph Stocco, a retired police Sergeant.
“For example, one officer has an area to cover that’s a couple of square miles. He cannot be everywhere all the time, so we need those residents that know their neighborhood, know their street, if they see something funny, they need to call it in. We’d much rather respond to that and have it be nothing than for the person not wanting to bother us, not call and than have something happen,” said Little.
He added the police department keeps information anonymous for those who don’t want to be identified.
Social Media also is helping authorities catch suspects. Little noted the Toms River Township Police Department’s Facebook page has over 8,000 followers. “We’ve caught a lot of people because a picture went out of a bank robber or shoplifter, or some kind of description and we get the calls and the tips right on Facebook,” he said.
In addition to ongoing crime fighting efforts, the Toms River Police Department is busy with fundraising efforts. Little said they held a flag football game last year against pro football players and will be doing it again this year, May 17, on the beach when Seaside Heights holds its “Jersey Shore Fest.”
“We’re going to actually play retired and current New York Giants Football players. Last year when we played, our guys actually made three touchdowns against these guys,” laughed Little. “They won of course, but I was very impressed with our guys,” he added. Little said it’s great community relations.
The Police Department’s basketball team least month also played against the Harlem Ambassadors, the farm team for the Harlem Globetrotters. “We ended up winning that game,” Little said.
In addition, the Department has a softball team. “All of that money goes to our police Foundation, which gives scholarships to kids in our community that want to go into a career in law enforcement or families,” added Little.
Click the links below to hear Chief Mitch Little on Townsquare Tonight: