The first thing Dan Young wanted to do when he became Vernon Township police chief was to raise the department’s community involvement.
“It is so critical that community knows that we’re a part of it,” said Young, a 20-year member of the department, who celebrated his first year as chief on Feb. 1, 2020. “I feel like, in my career, it’s been about making arrests and motor vehicle stops and meeting people at their worst at their homes. And we wanted to show this community loves its police department.”
It’s something he plans to continue as he heads into his second year as the township’s top cop.
One of the first things he did was hold a Coffee with a Cop event to talk to on March 8, 2019, residents on their way to work.
Then there was the spinoff event.
“Someone said to me, you got the adults, now you want to talk to the kids,” Young said.
Hence was born "Ice Cream with a Cop" on June 1, 2019. Ice cream was donated by Dairy Swirl. Kids had water balloon fights with the cops and then the department gave about 300 tours of police headquarters.
“It was a lot of fun; the kids had a blast,” Young said.
The department also reached its maximum of 40 kids in the Junior Police Academy and there was a waiting list for 2019.
The department also worked with New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance for a Share the Keys, a 1-hour program necessary for Vernon Township high School students to get their parking permit.
The department also implemented the Law Enforcement Against Drugs program, which replaces the old D.A.R.E. program, first in the fifth grade and then quickly implemented it for the seventh grade at Glen Meadow Middle School.
“We went from not having any program since D.A.R.E. program ended to starting this new program,” Young said. “What’s nice about it is that it puts an extra officer in our schools.”
The township has a School Resource Officer that goes to all the schools and now the kids get to meet a new face from the department.
While Young said he plans to continue all the initiatives he started in his first year, there are still challenges, like the heroin epidemic.
“The country is failing miserably against the war on drugs,” Young said. “The truth is we needed to look at other options and other ways to help save members of our community. This is catastrophic.”
One of those program is Operation Helping Hands, where officers have gone door-to-door to people they’ve identified who might need help with addiction services and inform them what services are available.
There have been 6 door-to-door events and 5 court events so far. Young said the grant for round 2 has started. So far, the police have visited 160 homes in Vernon.
“In January and beginning of February, the county saw 13 overdose deaths,” Young said. “One is too many. Those are some significant challenges that our county and nation face. We’re determined to get the information out that there are services available to people.”
There’s also been an emphasis on road safety as the department has made it a point in 2019 to increase motor vehicle stops as a deterrent to get drivers to slow down.
The department stopped 7,367 drivers in 2019, up from 4,541 in 2018.
Despite public perception, Young said it’s not about ticket generation or revenue.
“This is simply about making roads safer,” he said. “The more vehicle stops we make is a deterrent to slow people down.”
Young said none of these initiatives succeed without the staff, which ranges from the department’s 33 sworn officers to the dispatches and the secretaries.
“We have an amazing staff of people,” he said.
Of those 33 officers, 24, including Young’s entire command staff, are Vernon Township residents. Young, also is a graduate of Vernon Township High School and his kids are in the school system.
“I have a lot of vested interest in our community and I love being a part of it,” Young said. “That’s how I want the perception of our police department.”