Jersey City Public Safety Director Ready to Make Positive Changes

Members of the Jersey City council recently appointed James Shea as the city’s new public safety director. Shea has a background in terrorism investigation with the NYPD and told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that while security has come a long way since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, officials are always worried about what could be next.

The conflict happening in Syria causes some concern, according to Shea. “Just like Afghanistan we have jihadists from everywhere going there and flocking there so we have to worry about what’ll happen to them once they decide to leave after having been trained and experienced. And also Syria’s traditionally a state sponsor of Hezbollah terrorist organization and if the United States is involved in a conflict there, we’re gonna have to worry about an asymmetrical response,” Shea said. “They’ve struck elsewhere in the world in the past.”

Shea said officials have done a lot in the past 12 years to prepare to respond to terrorist attacks, including chemical attacks. “But I believe the worry, the apprehension that they may be planning something stays with us all the time,” he said.

Gov. Chris Christie has signed legislation requiring out-of-state police agencies to register in advance with New Jersey State Police before conducting any surveillance. Shea said he thinks the decision is the right one. “I believe that any police or any organization that is going to move into the jurisdiction of another organization should definitely inform the controlling jurisdiction that they’re coming in there, if only to prevent a friendly fire situation or two people working the same investigation and crossing each other up,” Shea said. “In addition, I believe the local jurisdiction has a better feel for what’s happening and should be able to control what happens within their borders.”

Shea worked with the NYPD’s joint terrorism task force assigned with the FBI, but wasn’t involved in the controversial surveillance that occurred in New Jersey on Muslims. He said that was done by a separate department — the NYPD intelligence unit.

Although the surveillance initiative didn’t produce terrorism suspects, Shea believes the practice came about out of an abundance of caution. “I believe that after 9/11, people felt that we need to do everything possible and exhaust every possibility to prevent the next attack. That I’m sure is where the surveillance operation came from,” he said. “Whether it was an efficient use of resources looking back now 11 years later would be an answer for the people who administered it.”

Since Shea learned that he would be appointed as public safety director, he has been working with the Jersey City Police Department and the Jersey City Fire Department. “Mostly what I wanna do is keep moving forward with them and move into the next phase of Jersey City. Not the Jersey City Police and Fire Department, but Jersey City. Police and fire officers are wonderful people and lately as they are getting paid what they’re worth, they’re getting more expensive than they were a while ago,” he said. “So we have to do more with less, though that phrase has become a little trite, we do need to make sure that the people are getting what they pay for when they invest in police and fire protection.”

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has said his goal is to shake up the Police Department. Shea said while everyone is apprehensive about change, but it will be coming. “The mayor’s mandate is very clear — to ensure we’re using our resources wisely. And then he will make a decision of whether we need additional resources,” Shea said.

Shea said Jersey City is the second largest city in the state and has an incredible financial sector, 10 of the largest buildings in New Jersey and is a major terrorism threat with a lot of infrastructure in addition to crime problems in certain neighborhoods.

“We have to make sure we’re using all our resources to the utmost and if that involves reorganization, then that’s what we’ll have to do. And then once we do that we’ll see if we have the appropriate resources for a dynamic Jersey City of today,” Shea said.