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In N.J., River Line, local police team up to stem crime

One man who traveled on the River Line twice shoplifted cans of Red Bull from a convenience store in Palmyra and used the light-rail line for getaways.

One man who traveled on the River Line twice shoplifted cans of Red Bull from a convenience store in Palmyra and used the light-rail line for getaways.

Others have been arrested for offenses such as disorderly conduct and trespassing.

To stem such quality-of-life crimes committed in the river towns in Burlington County served by the eight-year-old line, NJ Transit police and officers from 10 towns have joined forces to patrol platforms and trains.

The task force has been in operation since September. Members of the county Sheriff's Department also are part of it.

The officers patrol in uniform or in plainclothes at various times. Their aim: to catch some of the culprits on the light rail line's premises, as many of them break the law in other ways - by jumping turnstiles or by drug possession.

The 12-agency operation was born from meetings among representatives of the Burlington County Police Chiefs Association and NJ Transit police about a gradual spike in quality-of-life crimes committed by those who use light rail, Palmyra Police Chief Scott Pearlman said.

"The River Line makes for an easy way in and an easy way out, if you can plan your trains properly," said Pearlman, chairman of a chiefs' association committee that has worked with NJ Transit on the issue.

"We hope to make a safer environment for people riding the train, and for the towns the trains service," he said.

The light rail line shuttles 8,500 customers each weekday along the 341/2-mile route between Camden and Trenton, according to NJ Transit.

So far, the task force has made 88 arrests, mostly for skipping fares and on outstanding warrants, as well as for drug possession.

Riverside Police Chief Paul Tursi, a former association president, said people who use the line to commit crimes typically also skip fares.

"The same people who are committing the quality-of-life violations tend to commit more serious violations," Tursi said.

Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman for NJ Transit, said the partnership was going well.

"We're always looking for new opportunities to increase police presence on not only the River Line but throughout our transit system," she said.

Snyder said NJ Transit had worked with local departments before to increase police presence and taken other measures to increase security.

This summer, the agency started installing cameras in all of its 20 River Line cars with a $725,000 federal grant, Snyder said.

She said that in 2011, NJ Transit police made 601 arrests, mostly for skipping fares, disorderly conduct, and trespassing. So far this year, officers have made 886 arrests.

Tim Ireland, a spokesman for the PATCO High-Speed Line that connects South Jersey to Philadelphia, said that system's own 140-member Delaware River Port Authority police force patrols stations and trains.

PATCO does not participate in a joint task force with local police, but often works with them, he said.

In Palmyra, Pearlman said, some of the suspects who have used light rail are repeat offenders.

He said one man was arrested this year for shoplifting dozens of cans of Red Bull and other drinks from a convenience store. Two months ago, the same man fled the same store and hopped onto a train to elude police, Pearlman said.

A NJ Transit officer later recovered a backpack in Riverside with the suspect's identification - and more cans of Red Bull.

Pearlman said the man was again arrested on shoplifting charges.