Bernards Residents Fight Back Against Crime, Form Police Nonprofit

BASKING RIDGE, NJ — Following a recent surge in home invasions and crime, a small group of residents is forming a nonprofit organization to support the police department and protect their community.

Erin Witte, Christine Ziegler, and Mayor Jennifer Asay formed The Bernards Township Law Enforcement Foundation (BTLEF) which seeks to provide support to local law enforcement by offering education, training, equipment, and technology that will help reduce crime, increase officer safety, and improve community relations.

Their goal is to help law enforcement officers protect and serve the residents of Bernards Township.

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An “unexpected and frightening” home invasion at Witte’s home this past fall prompted her to form a partnership with the police and start the nonprofit.

Witte and her husband Paul along with their two teenage daughters have lived in the Liberty Corner section of the township for the past 15 years.

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“We have always felt this is a safe, welcoming, and supportive community and that sense of safety was damaged when our home, our loving home, was broken into in the early morning of Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023,” said Witte, who spoke at an Understanding Bernards Town Hall in February.

At 4:42 a.m., Witte’s home security cameras captured four people pulling up to her home in a car.

Two people can be seen walking up the driveway and opening the front storm door. The main front door was locked so the suspects went to the back of the house with a crow bar.

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Using the crowbar they broke the lock in the living room window, climbed onto their couch and went into the kitchen where they took Paul’s wallet and car keys from the kitchen counter.

The suspects then left the house through the same open window, started the car, and knocked over the Witte’s mailbox as they sped away, said Witte.

“What is most frightening about all of this is that it happened while we were all asleep and completely vulnerable,” said Witte.

Bernards Township Police arrived in the morning and using an app they were able to track down Paul’s car to a chop shop in the Bronx, NY. The New York City Police were able to impound it and return it. However, Witte said the car had $24,000 worth of damage done to it.

“The morning of Oct. 5 was one of the worst days of our lives. I might not recall all of the details from that day but I can say the men and women of the Bernards Township Police Department were professional, kind, thorough, and genuinely concerned for our family’s wellbeing and it was obvious to me that our situation was personal to them as well,” said Witte.

After the robbery, Witte told Patch she was very passionate in that moment about wanting to help support the police department.

Witte met with Police Chief Jon Burger and asked, “What can I do to help?”

Burger mentioned equipment such as license plate readers, more training, and other items that the department needed.

That’s when Witte got together with Ziegler, and Mayor Asay to form BTLEF.

“My father bravely served as a law enforcement officer for 42 years in Indianapolis. My brother currently is serving his 26th year with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. I am a proud law enforcement family member. As a Bernards Township resident and Committeeperson, I have seen the BTPD’s work firsthand and have been so impressed by and am grateful for the brave women and men of the BTPD, serving under the leadership of Chief Jon Burger. My interest in this organization is driven by my personal understanding and gratitude of our law enforcement officers,” said Asay to Patch.

The nonprofit will be organized exclusively for charitable purposes to aid the Bernards Township Police Department in providing supplemental programs and initiatives not fully by Bernards Township.

“As a Mayor, I see additional benefits of this organization. While the town allocates budget for the tools the BTPD needs, sometimes the once yearly budget timing may result in a delay, until the next budget cycle, for the police to obtain new tools. Additionally, when the chief determines priority of tools for the department, needs may be based on what serves the most residents. If there is a fund like this, if a certain group of residents have an interest in a specific tool, like having a speed sign trailer to slow traffic near their homes, they could donate to achieve this desire, if the police agreed to this solution,” said Asay.

Some of BTLEF’s offerings will include:

    If you are interested in serving with this new group, click here. They are especially seeking people with experience in bylaws, fundraising, and treasurer/accounting.

    Burger thanked Witte for starting the nonprofit at the Town Hall.

    “It’s a partnership between the police and the community. Erin is one of those rare people who had a traumatic incident but refuses to continue to be a victim so she wants to do whatever she can to not be a victim anymore,” said Burger.

    “In October entering our home was so much more brazen and such an invasion of our privacy. That’s what really kind of pushed me over the edge,” said Witte. “We are aware of what’s going on and we are not going to be complacent. We can’t stop crime but we can deter it and make it difficult to commit in Bernards.”

    Watch the Understand Bernards – Police Department Town Hall below. Witte starts speaking at 1:16.55:

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