Jersey City’s New Public Safety Director Plans Outreach to Community Groups

When Steve Fulop was elected mayor of Jersey City, he said one of his top priorities was to fight crime in the city and shake up the police department. Fulop announced the selection of former NYPD deputy chief James Shea as the city’s new public safety director last week. Shea told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he’s excited to come to Jersey City to help implement Fulop’s vision.

Shea said his interview with Fulop was his first when he already had a job. “He captivated me with his vision for Jersey City and his vision for public safety in Jersey City. He talked about one Jersey City for all its residents. And a workforce that serves all of those residents and creates one city instead of two cities — one doing well along the waterfront and then an inner city that’s lagging behind. So the chance to come over here and work with him to implement that vision was just too much to pass up,” he said.

Some members of the Jersey City police and fire departments have expressed reservations about Shea coming in to lead both departments. Shea said he has spoken to the union officials about his arrival and said he would have been shocked if they felt differently.

“They represent men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving the people of Jersey City and it’s their job to represent them and they should be commended for speaking up publicly with their name attached to it and expressing their concerns so they can be addressed. And in addition, they represent people who work in very dangerous jobs. They literally put their lives on the line every day. And anyone who works in a job like that is always nervous about working with someone they’re unfamiliar with,” Shea said. “So as I told them, we’ll get familiar with each other. And I do believe that in a couple months if we still are leery of each other it will probably be more my fault than theirs.”

Shea was in charge of the Police Academy and the Joint Terrorism Task Force at one time. He also provided testimony about the stop and frisk program. When asked if the stop and frisk program is something that he believes should be brought to Jersey City, Shea said there is a lot of confusion surrounding the program.

“The right to stop and question someone if a police officer feels they have reasonable suspicion that the person is committing or is about to commit or has committed a crime is an essential part of policing in a free, American society,” Shea said. “They can frisk if they have an additional reasonable suspicion that them or another person present is in danger.”

Crime victims want police to stop potential suspects, according to Shea, which can be done with descriptions. But he added that there can’t be an overall policy of frisking. “You can’t have a policy of stopping and questioning people and frisking them to deter future crimes, most importantly because there’s no legal basis for it. It would be unconstitutional,” he said.

Jersey City has an active Arab and Muslim population and many expressed concerns over the controversial NYPD surveillance program that included New Jersey. Shea said he plans to meet with every community group in Jersey City in the coming weeks to address their concerns and he expects the surveillance issue will be a large one.

“I do not believe that any police department should ever go into another police department’s jurisdiction without informing the police there what they’re doing, if for no other reason than de-confliction purposes,” Shea said. “And I do believe that we will address those communities’ concerns and make them feel comfortable that their concerns are being addressed and that they can always have somebody they can reach out to if they feel that they’re the subject of these actions in the future.”

Gun control and reducing violence are major issues throughout the country, New Jersey and Jersey City. The Attorney General’s Office has held multiple gun buybacks that have taken thousands of guns off the street, but violence persists. Shea said in general, illegal guns are a huge problem throughout the country.

“Stepping up enforcement of the laws already on the books against illegal guns is always the first step. Finding out where they are and finding out what we can do to remove them from the streets and remove their entry into our neighborhoods and our city. After that, I’ll have to wait and see,” Shea said.