By Jack Morrison

After the consolidation in 2013, the Princeton Police Department, under the fine leadership of Chief Nick Sutter, has worked to accomplish a feat that has never before been done in the state of New Jersey — the merger of two separate departments into one new one.

As part of this effort, the department is creating a Strategic Plan to help dictate how the department will operate into the future. The PMA is pleased to be working with the department on this, and in other efforts, in ways that we feel will help enhance communication and cooperation between the two entities.

Our police department is very customer and community driven, and they have a lot of wonderful programs that offer services to the community. We are committed to working with Nick and the rest of the department to find ways that the Princeton Police and the PMA can join forces to ensure that we have a safe and secure town, shopping village and restaurant/hospitality community.

What exactly is the Strategic Plan? According to Sutter, it’s the latest phase in his efforts to build a police department that in many ways is different than most others in the state.

“The biggest reason (we’re different)is what we went through two years ago with consolidation, in that we’re new,” Sutter said. “Most police departments are very established. They have a culture and a way of doing business that’s been long standing, proven and effective, and they continue to do things the same way.

“We were put into a situation where we brought two organizations together and had to develop, essentially, a new business and a whole new way of doing business. While we’re still in the same community, everything has pretty much changed for us. We have had to become more open to change and be more adaptable.”

Sutter says that early on, the department concentrated its efforts on getting accredited by the state Association of Chiefs of Police.

“The organization rallied around it and focused on it, and it’s a big reason why we’ve been so operationally successful up to this point. After we achieved that goal, I sat back and thought, ‘What’s next? What are we going to rally around and focus on?’ We needed something to drive us forward.”

The answer was the Strategic Plan, which Sutter says he hopes to have completed during the first quarter of this year. “The plan is going to take us up to five years into the future and be driven by our external stakeholders like the PMA, and our internal stakeholders, being our own officers. The document will outline the department’s goals, objectives and collaborations.”

The plan is part of an overall philosophical change in the way the Princeton Police department conducts its business. “Police departments historically were charged with telling people what they need to be safe. What they need to do to protect themselves and their properties,” Sutter says. “We still are in that business to a point, but what we’re doing much better now is trying to reach out to the different segments of the community and have them tell us what they need from us.”

“I’m not a businessperson and I don’t know what they need from us to help protect their businesses, and to make their customers, clients and employees feel safe and part of our community,” Sutter says.

The Princeton Police Department has a Community Policing Unit, and Sutter says that as part of this ongoing effort, officers will be available to go to the PMA’s general meetings, as well as meetings that center around special topics of concern. “We can pretty much get an officer to a meeting on short notice. I hope that the PMA would want that, and we would certainly be there.”

Lori Rabon, general manager of the Nassau Inn, is involved with me in helping coordinate the PMAs communications with the police department.

“Since I arrived in the Princeton market almost 30 years ago, communications between the department and the business community have increased over time, and Nick is the most open of the chiefs that we’ve had,” Rabon says. “Since the consolidation of the two departments, he’s brought us all together to an entirely different level.”

She adds that one idea that has already come out of their discussions is the creation of a small task force comprised of key merchants and police officers to come to look at enforcement issues in areas such as noise, snow removal and garbage pickup.

From the perspective of the PMA, we are all thankful to Nick and his leadership, because we’re having these dialogues. Personally, I get goose bumps just thinking about it. It’s exciting, and I believe that there’s nothing but good that can come as a result of these efforts.

We have a deep respect for the force, especially because we feel we’re deeply respected by the police. In the past year and a half we have had about 20 new businesses open in town and they don’t have the experience and history that Lori and I have.

The mission of the PMA, and it’s wonderful that Nick joins us in that mission, is to welcome these people and help them understand what is out there and what the department is doing. Most of it quietly, to help keep this community safe.

Jack Morrison is owner of the JM Group and a PMA director. The Hometown Princeton column is provided monthly by the PMA. On the web: princetonmerchants.org.