Responding to gun violence in certain areas of Jersey City, Public Safety Director James Shea has asked the City Council to implement several changes to current ordinances and says he plans to shift some police to the most troubled areas.
During the Dec. 14 City Council caucus, Shea spoke about some of the strategies the Police Department has implemented to curb violence, particularly in problem areas in the southern and western sections of Jersey City.
One change would force businesses with a history of violent activity to shut their doors by 11 p.m.
Some hotspots for violence stay open as late as 4 a.m., said Ward A Councilman Frank Gajewski, who proposed the ordinance change. Under the new provision, businesses would have to clamp down on potential violence by discouraging groups from hanging out.
Tough guys on the streets
While not all of Jersey City’s 24 murders in 2015 have been the result of gun violence, most of them were, and there have been more shootings this year than in the past, leaving numerous victims, some of them gang related.
Shea said a significant number of these can be attributed to men just out of prison seeking revenge for some previous slight.
“Some just think they are tough guys,” Shea said.
While a number of the victims of shootings were known to carry guns themselves and previously had been arrested on gun-related charges, some victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a man killed using an ATM machine on Ocean Avenue earlier this month. In that instance, the man’s killer escaped on a bicycle.
“These are very bad people causing trouble.” – James Shea
Between Nov. 12 and 23, there were five fatal shootings in the city. In early December, a man was stabbed to death.
Residents and other activists held an anti-violence march two weeks ago from MLK Drive (which is an area prone to violence) to City Hall.
Bad people causing trouble
Councilman Michael Yun brought up the high number of shootings in the last two months.
Shea admitted that shootings are up for the year, and said they involve two groups of individuals, but he did not elaborate on who those groups are. Most agree the shootings are related to street gangs.
Shea said the Police Department is setting up permanent posts at troubled locations designed to slow down the number of shootings.
He said in many cases, gunmen and victims know each other. Four or five of the recent gunmen just came out of jail.
“These are very bad people causing trouble,” he said. “Some are robbers stealing from drug dealers and that always causes problems. Others simply think they are tough.”
In some cases, the victim themselves are carrying guns and tense situations break out into violence.
“All of them live in Jersey City, most are shot within three blocks of where they’ve lived their entire lives,” he said.
A majority of the shootings take place on MLK Drive, Ocean Avenue, Rutgers Place and the streets in that area.
The time of violence tends to shift, Shea said. When the department assigns more police to the midnight shift and to violence-prone areas, the people involved move to another place.
Shea said he has put together a plan with the prosecutor’s office to get more violent individuals off the streets. But he said the court system is often releasing these people to the street after they’ve been arrested. Of the last 52 gun-related arrests made by the city, 36 of them had had previous arrests involving guns.
“Some of the bad people are still out there,” he said. “But if there is good news in this, there are fewer people doing these crimes over and over.”
Extra cops in troubled areas
Recently the department made 12 gun arrests that included some of those who are causing the most problems, and this appears to have caused gun violence to subside, officials said.
“We’re putting extra cops in areas where there are shootings,” he said. “We have posts out there 16 hours at day, and zone cars at night where the violence is happening.”
Shea said he is trying to increase the number of officers. The department currently has 805. The department added 40 new recruits recently, but eight of them have already quit.
While Mayor Steven Fulop says he is committed to hiring more police, the department is hampered by the lack of its own police academy, a sore point with former police officer and current Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano.
The administration of former Mayor Jerramiah Healy closed an academy the city shared with Hudson County in 2010 to save money. The city is now forced to seek available space in academies out of the county. Often, Jersey City recruits cannot get spots in a timely fashion.
Shea said the closing of the academy might have saved money at the time, but was an unwise move in the long term. He said he’s spoken with state officials to reestablish one in Hudson County.
“But this won’t happen overnight,” Shea said.
What about part-time cops?
Yun, whose ward is in Jersey City Heights, raised concerns about shifting police to the south and west sides of the city, leaving other parts of the city vulnerable to crime.
But Shea said the department is doing a great job in covering the city, even while answering the added needs in the most violent parts of the city.
Yun asked if the city might be able to use part-time police officers to help bolster the department ranks. He pointed to the seasonal police that are hired by shore communities during the summer months.
But Shea said even part-time police would be required to attend the academy, and he would rather train full-time police.
“Many of the seasonal officers hired down the shore have other jobs such as teachers during the rest of the year,” Shea said. “I would not want to put anyone but professional full-time officers into these situations.”
Shea said unlike other cities where he’s worked, Jersey City is committed to hiring more police.
Jeremy Farrell, city attorney, said contracts with the police union prohibit the hiring of part-time police who are not in the union or even auxiliary cops.
Officials discussed last week the ordinance that would force violence-prone businesses to close by 11 p.m.
Gajewski said some places staying open to 4 a.m. and attract large crowds all night where fights, shootings, and robberies occur.
He said on Oct. 30, 18 shots were exchanged and one person wounded at one such place.
The ordinance would give the police the ability to issue a disorderly persons violation to the establishment if the place does not close by 11 p.m. Most businesses in the city close their doors at about that time anyway.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.