By Candace Kelley
Today’s message was simple.
“Get your guns off the streets or we are taking you off the street,” said Acting Attorney General John C. Hoffman.
The New Jersey State Police and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office are spearheading the TIDE-TAG initiative. Its focus — manning the streets of Newark with New Jersey state troopers who’ll aggressively arrest and prosecute gang members and repeat offenders. The plan will also send more local police out on patrol. Those convicted of carrying guns will be face at least three and a half years in state prison without parole. That’s up from one year.
“No more Band-Aids. This has to be. We are like a wound that’s been so wounded and now we are trying to heal it but not with Band-Aids,” Newark Interim Mayor Luis Quintana said. “The people in this city want boots on the streets and that’s all they wanted.”
Murders hit a record 111 in 2013, the highest total for the city since 1990. And last year, budget cuts forced 160 police officers off the street. Both Newark mayoral candidates welcome a heightened police presence.
“This is a breath of fresh air. Finally a group like this has been called together to address that,” said Ras Baraka. “The idea that we are going to do this continually and in perpetuity is great, that it become a culture of what happens in the city is better. I think the fact they talked about other agents being involved helps us sustain this even longer.”
Candidate Shavar Jeffries also approves, saying that he is glad that the initiative includes working with prosecutors to impose stiffer sentences for illegal gun carriers.
When a similar program was launched in Trenton last year, shooting incidents and homicides went down by a third over the next six months. Officials say this couldn’t have happened without the help of the community.
“We need the community to partner with us to become that extra eyes and ears so we can work more intelligently in meeting the community’s needs and reducing crime,” said Newark Police Chief Ivonne Roman.
But Sharif Amenhotep, a founding member of the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, says any plan first has to address the city’s underlying social problems.
“The high unemployment rate contributes to the crime and violence on the streets. If young men would be able to find jobs and be able to work, they could provide for their family,” Amenhotep said.
And we spoke to one former gang member who says those in gangs could leave the streets if they simply learned how to be men.
“That’s what a lot of them are afraid of, they don’t want to make the same mistakes that their fathers made. But that’s what life is about, making choices and dealing with the choices,” said Unique Ward.
Hoffman says he’s committing $2.2 million dollars from various sources to fund the plan. “If we can get in and get those people off the streets for a significant amount of time, that’s the first step, the first step toward changing the culture,” he said.
Steps that officials say are well underway.