With a Personal Touch, Prosecutor Leaves Mark
With term to expire this month, Robert Bianchi's style, accomplishments praised by colleagues.
As Hurricane Irene ripped through Morris County last August, Administrator John Bonanni said there was one sight he'll always remember.
In the middle of the intense management of the storm response, with dozens of officials on the scene at the county’s emergency management center in the middle of the night, Prosecutor Robert Bianchi announced he needed a cup of coffee and said he’d find an open doughnut shop to make a coffee run for everyone.
Later that morning, Bonanni said Bianchi and prosecutor’s office Capt. Jeff Paul found a propane grill and fixed Taylor ham and eggs for the emergency staff.
“Here was the chief law enforcement official in the county fixing coffee for everyone,” Bonanni said.
That was a measure of the down-to-earth style Bianchi brought to the office, Bonanni said, and a measure of his approach to law enforcement that puts people first. “He saw that little things meant a lot," Bonanni said.
Bianchi, who was not reappointed last week by Gov. Chris Christie to serve another term, said he took great pride in earning a conviction in the Chatham case.
"I even had the honor and privilege to have rolled up my sleeves and tried the murder case of Father Ed Hinds, which to me was one of the greatest honors of my career," Bianchi said last week in a prepared statement.
Christie nominated Republican attorney Fredric Knapp, a special council for Morris County who specialized in labor actions, over Bianchi, a Democrat.
Prosecutors serve five-year terms. Bianchi was appointed in 2007 by Gov. Jon Corzine. His term will end June 22.
"I am happy for Fred. I personally know the exhilaration of being appointed to such a wonderful position in government," Bianchi said in a prepared statement. "He is a nice man and I will do everything needed to ensure an orderly transition of this office. It has been an honor to serve and I have worked tirelessly at a job that I will always love and cherish.”
Bonanni said the relationship between his office, the freeholders and Bianchi’s office was administrative.
“His relations with us were always respectful,” Bonnani said. “He leaves office with significant accomplishments.”
Sheriff Edward Rochford, who in 2008 formed with Bianchi’s office a joint fugitive task force to better track bail jumpers, violent criminals and others who skipped court sessions, said Bianchi will be missed.
“He was a very sharp prosecutor,” Rochford said. “He brought a new level of law enforcement to Morris County.”
The fugitive task force was the type of collaborative effort that Bianchi brought to the law enforcement community, Rochford said. For the task force to work, the collaboration between the two departments had to be close. It combined the existing prosecutor’s fugitive unit and the sheriff’s warrant squad.
At the time the task force was formed, Bianchi said it was a response to the freeholders’ request that all county departments trim 2.5 percent from their annual budgets. It was also an effort to break down the “silos” that existed within his own department and among law enforcement agencies across the county.
The key initiative in this effort was the development of an intelligence-based model of community policing that Bianchi said, “that created more proactive investigations rather than reactive responses.”
An example, Bianchi cited in 2010, was the crime decrease reflected in the 2009 uniform crime reports, a 12.8 percent drop countywide.
In Parsippany, for example, the annual report from the state police showed an increase in burglaries in 2009. Bianchi said the response was to provide Parsippany police with graphics that showed when and where local crimes were committed by hour of the day, day of the week and maps that showed the history of crimes in specific locations.
It was not a matter of patrolling areas where police think crimes might occur, Bianchi said at the time, but sending officers to sites where based on data, they could expect crimes to occur.
Bianchi recently cited this approach when he announced 24 arrests of individuals allegedly associated with a violent, four-county gang-related drug operation. Bianchi said by cooperating and exchanging information, the investigation of a 2011 Morristown shooting led to the development of information across Morris, Warren, Essex and Union counties that brought down the drug gang.
Morristown Police Chief Peter Demnitz said under Bianchi, the county prosecutor’s office helped Morristown address serious crimes.
“We had very, very good relations with Bianchi and we tackled many serious crimes,” he said.