LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

U.S. Attorney Touts Camden’s Gun Buyback Effort, Says Public Corruption Remains Top Priority

In the wake of the deadly Connecticut school shooting, some New Jersey politicians have called for stricter gun control laws. U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul Fishman told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that leaders will be discussing the national response to the Connecticut school shooting and ways to stem violence, including in Camden. Fishman also said his office has a goal of rooting out corruption among public officials and bringing them to justice.

Fishman said federal laws and prosecutorial tools are sufficient and that the Connecticut shooting — along with other mass shooting throughout the country — and recent killings of young children in Camden are terrible tragedies.

The latest gun buyback program in Camden brought in a record number of weapons — more than 1,100. “What’s stunning about that is that generally on average we seize in federal, state enforcement about 300 guns a year on the streets of Camden. There was 1,100 in two days,” Fishman said. “That’s 1,100 fewer guns on the street in a city of 65,000 people.”

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Fishman said the results of the latest gun buyback show that there are too many guns on the street. “As the president said on Sunday night, this is another reason why we have to look very carefully at our national response to these kinds of tragedies and obviously the president and the attorney general of the United States for whom I work will be leading a discussion over the next several weeks and months about the appropriate way for us to respond as a country,” he said.

Officials will be looking at what appropriate new laws and regulations might be, Fishman said, and getting input from a variety of sources. “I think we’re going to be working with mental health professionals and teachers and school administrators and people in law enforcement and citizens,” he said.

One of the striking aspects of the Camden gun buyback is how closely the state and local police worked with the faith-based communities to try to get people to turn in their guns, Fishman said. He explained that type of outreach is “part of a really comprehensive law enforcement strategy that we have in the city of Camden where we and our counterparts at the state and county and local level are really working hand in hand to try to reduce the incredibly terrible level of violence in that city.”

Fishman said an event like the Connecticut shooting can’t really be classified as an act of domestic terrorism since that is usually based on ideology, which didn’t seem to be at work in this most recent incident. “The shooting of small children at close range like that is incomprehensible and as a father of small boys, I can’t imagine what those parents are going through. It’s just a horrible, horrible thing,” he said. “We have to do everything we can in law enforcement working with everybody we can to try to do something about that.”

Public corruption is an issue that Fishman said has been and remains the signature program in his office. “It’s our highest priority,” he said, pointing out that the mayors of West New York, Hamilton and Trenton have been indicted in the last several months.

While Fishman admits the sentences that have been handed down haven’t dissuaded everyone from engaging in corruption, but said it’s the goal of his office to make “people understand that we’re looking for this. We have more resources dedicated to this proportionately than any other United States attorney’s office in the country. We take this very seriously.”

Fishman said he has worked in the public sector for 19 of the 30 years he has practiced law and takes corruption by public officials very seriously. “There’s nothing that offends me more as a public servant than the idea that people who took the same oath that I did and the same oath that the FBI agents did with whom we work are violating that and using public service to their own advantage,” he said. “When that happens, not only does it betray everybody in public service, but it really cuts at the fabric of the trust that people have to have in their government offices.”

While Fishman admits his office doesn’t catch everybody engaging in corruption, he said its employees are not letting up. “I think the number of people we prosecute has remained at a pretty consistently high level for that particular kind of offense and we’re continuing to look very closely at people in a number of areas around the state,” he said.