Four stories, published in the Courier News and Star-Ledger, August 3, 2006 through February 15, 2007 [Emphasis added.]
1 - Star-Ledger, Thursday, August 3, 2006
Trenton expands anti-gang program
'Operation CeaseFire' to start in more cities
BY TOM HESTER
The crackdown on gang violence grew some more teeth yesterday.
In touting the expansion of "Operation CeaseFire" into 10 more cities, Gov. Jon Corzine and Attorney General Zulima Farber said state and local authorities will increase the presence of state troopers in urban areas, enlist the help of citizens and seek tougher penalties on gang members who try to recruit members or threaten witnesses.
Corzine also told nearly 200 law enforcement officials and officers gathered for a summit on gang violence in Hamilton that the state will provide $750,000 toward "Operation CeaseFire."
"Combating gangs is one of my top priorities and one of the key initiatives in this year's budget," Corzine said. "It is important to continue to expand projects that have a positive track record, and CeaseFire has certainly done well."
Farber said Operation CeaseFire will be expanded in Newark-Irvington, Camden and Trenton. In addition, the program will be added to Jersey City and Paterson by the end of the year, and to New Brunswick, Elizabeth, Plainfield, Asbury Park, Lakewood, Atlantic City and Millville-Vineland by next year.
"What this means for Trenton is we have another tool in our tool box to fight gun violence and illegal gang violence," said Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer, who attended the summit. "We are going to certainly utilize the resources provided for us by the State Police and the resources of the community and the faith-based community so we do not have more people as victims, especially our children."
In Newark and Irvington, Operation CeaseFire has been under way in a 2-mile area along the cities' border since May 2005. State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said gang shootings are down 40 percent on the Newark side and 30 percent on the Irvington side.
Despite those numbers, there have been 64 murders in Newark this year, a pace that could surpass the 97 murders last year, which was the greatest number of killings in a decade.
Fuentes said State Police intelligence officers have been in all of the cities for six months or longer gathering intelligence on gang operations and helping local police and prosecutors investigate shootings.
Citizen volunteers will be trained at the Police Institute at Rutgers-Newark to reach out to victims, witnesses and, if possible, gang members, to seek their cooperation in prosecutions.
"The goal of Operation CeaseFire is to use intelligence-driven policing to focus upon the most dangerous offenders in the most dangerous areas of the state," Farber said.
Officials said the combined police and citizen efforts are similar to those that helped lead to the arrest statewide on July 25 of 60 members of the 9 Tre gang, a faction of the Bloods, on racketeering and weapons charges. Fuentes said moves by police and prosecutors to question the potentially illegal background of bail money have kept all of the alleged gangsters behind bars.
In Newark-Irvington, three State Police detectives and one detective from each city are investigating each shooting. The State Police also are doing forensics work on evidence. Fuentes said that while Operation CeaseFire will be tailored to the needs of each of the other cities, the police and citizen work will be similar. He said troopers and police in each city also will exchange intelligence.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan, who attended the summit, said that while Operation CeaseFire is a welcome program, New Brunswick police have been attempting to crack down on shootings of all types.
"We are not waiting," he said. "New Brunswick and Middlesex County are being as proactive as we can be to deal with gang violence, and we will continue to do so while awaiting the rollout by the state."
Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith was glad to hear the Newark-Irvington effort praised. "We still have a long way to go, but we are seeing a reduction (in shootings)," the mayor said. "The goal is to put the gangs out of business."
Corzine said he will seek legislation to toughen penalties for gangsters who injure or intimidate witnesses to gang-related crimes or who attempt to recruit young members.
A sweeping package of 17 bills aimed at quelling gun violence passed the state Assembly on May 23, and awaits action in the Senate.
Tom Hester covers state government. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 292-0557.
2 - Courier News, Thursday, August 3, 2006
Hard-line anti-gang initiative to expand
Police program to be added to 12 urban areas, including Plainfield.
By ANGELA DELLI SANTI
The Associated Press
HAMILTON -- A policing program that takes a hard-line approach to gun and gang violence will be expanded from the North Jersey city where it was first tried last year to 12 urban areas across the state, including Plainfield.
The "Cease Fire" program combines law enforcement, prosecution and community outreach in areas most affected by gang violence.
A pilot program that began more than a year ago in a crime-plagued 2-square-mile area on the Newark- Irvington border saw shootings decline by about a third in the targeted zone, state police Col. Rick Fuentes said. That success prompted Gov. Jon S. Corzine to include $750,000 in the current state budget to expand the program.
Speaking Wednesday at an anti-gang summit that drew law enforcement professionals, politicians and community activists from across the state, Corzine denounced gang-spawned crime waves for creating havoc in affected cities.
A 2004 state police survey showed gangs moving from cities to suburbs. One hundred forty-three municipalities reported gang activity, more than three times the number reporting it in a more limited survey three years earlier.
There are an estimated 17,000 gang members in the state, and state police say 17 percent of the state's homicides have a gang tie.
Gang violence "undermines the ability to get to a higher quality of life," Corzine said, calling it a "moral responsibility" for New Jerseyans to protect their children from gangs, guns and drugs.
By the end of the year, Cease Fire programs will be running in Trenton, Camden, Jersey City and Paterson, Attorney General Zulima Farber said. Camden's program actually started in June, and early results show promise, Fuentes said.
Cities to get the program in 2007 are: Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Elizabeth, Lakewood, Millville-Vineland, New Brunswick and Plainfield.
The program -- Fuentes calls it a comprehensive violence-reduction strategy, while others refer to it as "intelligent policing" -- homes in on gun crimes, treating every shooting as if someone died. That triggers forensic and ballistics investigations that would not ordinarily be launched in nonfatal shootings.
Prosecutors also work to keep suspects behind bars by requesting that judges check the source of bail money to ensure it wasn't gotten through illegal activity.
"The basic mission is to stop the next shooting, to prevent crime," said George L. Kelling, faculty chairman of the Police Institute at Rutgers University in Newark.
A third component of the strategy is to seek the help of the community to make neighborhoods safer.
"Identify the natural community leaders and let them fly," Kelling said. "There has to be a real sense of moral indignation that what's happening in the streets is simply intolerable."
3 - Star-Ledger, Sunday, December 03, 2006
Operation CeaseFire's next target: Plainfield shootings
BY ALEXI FRIEDMAN
Last month, a dozen bullets tore through a car in Plainfield, leaving the three intended targets inside unscathed but residents on edge.
A police investigation later determined the shooting was gang related. Suspects have been identified but no arrests have been made. In Plainfield this year, homicides are down but shootings are up, and gang violence remains a concern.
But starting next month, a new statewide anti-violence initiative will be implemented, aimed at reducing the number of shootings by treating each one with the importance of a homicide. Officers from local and state agencies will be called in to investigate each incident, sharing information and intelligence along the way. There will be greater community outreach, authorities said, with residents and block watch association members urged to report any crime they may see.
Called Operation CeaseFire, the multi-agency program has already yielded results along a two-square-mile stretch on the Newark-Irvington border, where it has been in effect for more than a year. Shootings have decreased 30 percent from the previous year there, according to the state attorney general's office.
The initiative will be phased into 14 cities throughout the state -- including Elizabeth -- bringing together specially trained officers from city and state police with teams from the Department of Criminal Justice and county prosecutors.
In Plainfield, which has a population of 47,000, three squads will work around the clock, with two from the city police and one from the state police. Three to seven personnel will investigate each shooting in Plainfield, according to its police chief, Edward Santiago. The process of intelligence gathering and forensic analysis will also be accelerated, he added, clearing a path for arrests.
Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow requested that Plainfield be added to the CeaseFire list after consulting with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Santiago. "I felt it was an appropriate candidate because of the number of shootings," he said.
Through October, there were 52 confirmed incidents of assault with a firearm, up from 43 last year. The charge is applied any time a gun is pointed at someone or fired, according to Plainfield police. Factor in confirmed and unconfirmed incidents of shots fired, and the numbers jump.
Through July, there were 91 reports of shots fired, according to the prosecutor's office. For all of 2005, there were 143 such incidents reported.
Homicides have dropped, however, to eight, from 14 a year ago. Of the eight murders this year, five involved gang members, either who fired the gun or were hit, Romankow said.
"Aside from investigating these matters, we are combing the areas for witnesses," he said. "We are pushing as much as we can informants. Whatever is necessary to get these people off the street."
The prospect of Operation CeaseFire coming to Plainfield has been met with general support from city officials and community leaders. That isn't a surprise since crime along with economic development and taxes was one of the key issues during the most recent Plainfield city council debates leading up to Election Day.
"We have to be open to creative policing and try new things and tactics," Santiago said. Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig said he believes Operation CeaseFire "will have a positive impact in lowering the crime rate."
While Plainfield is a suburban community, said Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Plainfield), "it has urban problems. We don't have all the resources to fight crime. These are the areas that they can really help a town like Plainfield."
Operation CeaseFire is an anti-violence initiative, authorities say, though cracking down on gangs remains the focus. There are 18 known gangs in Plainfield, according to the Union County Prosecutor's Office, although Santiago said just a handful "are active." Though some gangs may have just one or two members, there are about 250 verified gang members in the city and another 200 who could not be verified.
Those numbers are comparable to nearby Elizabeth, whose 120,000 residents account for more than twice Plainfield's population.
Terrell Alston, a longtime city resident, said he looks forward to Operation CeaseFire. Gang violence, he believes, has not subsided in Plainfield. "We have to get to the basis of why these things are occurring," said Alston, who heads up Concerned Citizens of Plainfield, a local advocacy group. "If we have a better response from our police department as well as the citizens of the city, I believe we can become a more vibrant and effective city."
Steven Hatcher, president of the Plainfield Chapter of People's Organization for Progress, agreed.
"I commend it, I hope they do it," he said. "I got a son. I don't want my son raised in a place where he's afraid to go outside."
Alexi Friedman may be reached at (908) 302-1505 or email@example.com.
4 - Courier News, Thursday, February 15, 2007
Plainfield to implement program to cut gun violence
By CHRISTA SEGALINI
PLAINFIELD -- A comprehensive, anti-violence program that uses community outreach, strategic planning and state-of-the-art equipment to reduce instances of gun violence is scheduled to roll out in the city by mid-April.
State, county and local officials met Wednesday at City Hall to discuss the implementation of Operation CeaseFire, a state-funded program already in place in Newark and Irvington that officials said has been instrumental in reducing gun violence in the targeted areas of those cities by as much as 30 percent over the past year.
This new program is the latest in a series of efforts officials are mounting to increase safety in the city. Earlier this month, the city began Operation Take Care of Business, in which police officers are being deployed on foot, bike and Segway scooter patrols in a community policing strategy for the city's key downtown commercial areas.
The new gun program works by training law enforcement and community organizations on the strategies of how to reduce gun-related crimes, state police Capt. Christopher Andreychak said.
Specifically, Andreychak said that every participating city is given the tools to map its "hot-spots" of violent crimes, which then receive heightened attention by law enforcement.
The goal, Andreychak said, is for law enforcement to predict when to expect increased levels of violence in their "hot-spot" areas. Since part of Operation CeaseFire's goal is to reduce gang violence, evidence confiscated at the scenes of violent crimes -- such as bullet casings or discarded guns -- are sent to state police ballistics technicians, who see if the evidence has any connections to violent crime scenes in other cities.
"When you start cracking down on crime in one area, those criminals who aren't arrested wind up leaving that area, and it becomes difficult to investigate," Andreychak said.
In addition to training and increased connection with the state police, Andreychak said the city also will receive its own equipment, including a $5,000 "trunk-kit" with cameras and recording devices to conduct surveillance of its targeted areas.
Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig said the training of four of the department's officers, as well as civilian training to support the program's community outreach component, also is being funded by a portion of the $750,000 grant that Gov. Jon S. Corzine earmarked for Operation CeaseFire.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.