By David Cruz
Against the backdrop of a sudden uptick in shootings, Jersey City swore in 32 new police officers today, a symbolic show of force intended to buck up a shaken public. Three shootings in one day last week and this week the robbery and murder of 35-year-old Darcel Rivers, son of a city fire chief. At today’s ceremony, Mayor Steve Fulop reiterated his point that, while abhorrent, these shootings are not reflective of the city at large.
“You look at Jersey City relative to any city in this country — similar demographics, similar size — we are ahead of the curve,” said Fulop. “That said, every city has similar challenges. It’s socioeconomic, it’s parenting issues, there’s a lot of things that go into it, so there’s no absolute answer. You hire 32 officers; 32 officers aren’t going to be the absolute solution. It’s going to help. It’s not going to solve it.”
Almost a year after the death of 23-year-old rookie cop Melvin Santiago, the department is trying to strengthen ties with the community in some of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. It isn’t always easy.
“Sometimes cooperation is not the best from the community on getting leads, and there’s a lot of reasons for that,” added Fulop. “It’s systemic. You’re talking about decades of mistrust sometimes between, particularly, the African-American community and police. And so we try to change that, but it takes a long time.”
Part of that effort is to build a police department that looks more like the people it’s intended to protect. To that end, says the mayor, here’s a new class of 32 with 16 Latinos, seven African-Americans and three Asians. Young men and women, born and raised in the city, now patrolling its toughest streets.
Officer Victor Ransom, his family joining him, his mother moved to tears.
Is it a mother’s pride or is it also a mother knowing her son is going into a tough line of work?
“It’s a little bit of both,” says Robin Ransom. “I mean our city needs some good protection and these guys are going to bring it to them. They’re coming from the community which they now get to serve and protect, so they know the diversity; they know the people and having that, may make it a better place.”
Victor Ransom says his family has always been a mini United Nations. “I’ve always loved Jersey City,” he says. “My mother, she raised us in a very diverse [environment]. We have everybody in my family, so my mother always taught us to care for people, always do more for the people who have not, so they could have something, and that’s what I plan to do as an officer. I wanna reach out to those people that have nothing and let them know that there’s hope out there.”
Diversity may be a goal of this force, but the department’s top brass remains mostly white men and the culture of the department is seen by many on the street as part of the problem. Change is incremental, cautions Fulop, and the small steps that are being taken now will hopefully bear fruit in the years ahead.