FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2014
RUTGERS, LIVINGSTON CAMPUS, PISCATAWAY, N.J.
Good morning. Thank you, Andrew [Carey], for that introduction. During the three and a half years we worked together in the US Attorney’s Office, I got to see first-hand your dedication to the fight against violent crime and am delighted to have you as a partner. I want to thank John [Farmer], whom I have known now for more than 20 years. He has had a remarkable career in public service and I am proud to call him a close friend. And thank you to Rutgers – and by that, I mean all of you who work so hard here – for hosting this very important gathering.
Exactly three months ago, on Christmas Day, Zainee Hailey – a 13-year-old girl, an honor student, a cheerleader, a member of her church’s youth choir – took out the garbage and never came back. She was an innocent bystander, shot and killed by a bullet meant for a boy who was only a year or two older than she was.
One Saturday night, in early August, Barry Church was sitting on his front stoop with his son, enjoying a warm summer night. A stray bullet struck him in the side of his chest and killed him. That same night, Carmen Wright was crossing a street in Trenton when she was struck by a car that was out of control because the driver had been shot in the neck and his foot was stuck on the accelerator.
Ten days before Christmas, Dustin Friedland was gunned down in front of his new wife during a carjacking in the parking garage of the Short Hills Mall.
And on a September afternoon, three men in Camden, armed with an AK-47, sprayed 14 rounds across a park toward a housing project and hit a school bus filled with 35 preschoolers.
These stories resonate because they are the tales of the innocent – a young, teenage girl; a newly married husband Christmas shopping; a group of preschoolers on a bus. And even to a public that is used to hearing reports of violence almost every night on the news, hardened because those acts are so frequent, these stories shock us – the acts are so senseless, the consequences so stunning, that they stop us in our tracks. We are here for them.
But, as awful as those crimes are, everyone here knows they are the tip of the iceberg. There were 37 homicides last year in Trenton – a record for that city. There were 111 in Newark – the highest number in a quarter of a century – not to mention the almost 400 carjackings in and around that city, which is a level that exists nowhere else in the country. While some cities like Elizabeth, Atlantic City, and Camden did better than in 2012, Camden’s homicides still numbered 57 – a ridiculously high count for a city of that size. We don’t always – or maybe even often – hear about all of those victims. We are here for them too.
And all across the state – in communities like Asbury Park, Jersey City, Bridgeton and Plainfield – honest, hardworking mothers and fathers – and kids – live every day with an unacceptable level of violence. We are here for them.
Over the last four years, we have brought some very successful cases in federal court, and we will continue to focus relentlessly on the most violent offenders who are causing the most harm and wreaking the most havoc. The Dirty Block case in Atlantic City, the MS-13 case in Plainfield, the Southside Cartel case in Newark are just three examples of major ongoing prosecutions of gangs responsible for serious violence and the drug dealing that fuels it. We have worked with every county prosecutor in this room and with the local police in their jurisdictions to identify the most dangerous criminals in those communities and to try to take them off the streets. We have collaborated with every level of law enforcement – including, of course, Attorney General Hoffman and his office – to meet this challenge, using innovative methods and new ideas to complement old-fashioned police work. I have seen extraordinary things from what we call C-4, our unprecedented fusion center in Camden; from the various VEST (that’s Violent Enterprise Source Target) efforts around the state; and from the other inventive policing strategies you will hear more about today. And I want to thank all of the members of federal, state, county and local law enforcement who have made time to be here today; I am proud of you and their colleagues for your dedication and hard work.
But as talented as they and their colleagues are, and as successful as they’ve been, we all understand that law enforcement, acting alone, is not the answer. As my friend (and my boss), Attorney General Eric Holder, is fond of saying, we will never arrest our way out of this problem. Every great cop or agent, and every experienced prosecutor, knows that we just can’t do our jobs – we can’t win this fight – without the help, support and partnership of the community members we serve. While it is true that the violence is fueled by gangs, drugs and guns, we all recognize that towns with inadequate housing, communities with too few jobs, schools that are underperforming and dangerous and parks that are littered with needles and shell casings are not going to nurture a culture that is safe and secure. We know that there are thousands of law abiding, good people in those communities, aching for streets that they can walk in, schools that are safe and playgrounds where their children can actually play. But to help them reclaim the neighborhoods that they deserve – to give the children of those neighborhoods hope – we need to work with them, and they need to work with us.
This isn’t a new idea – not in New Jersey, and not to federal law enforcement officials. Back in my last tour in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in the early 1990s, Trenton was the pilot project for a program called Weed and Seed. Funded by the Department of Justice, we developed a real partnership among my office, the State Attorney General, and the City of Trenton. We combined intensive community policing and stepped up drug enforcement in areas around three schools, which stayed open late into the evening so they could function like real community centers. Those neighborhoods were also the focus of extra housing rehabilitation and enhanced cultural activities. We called those schools “Safe Havens” – and we wanted to turn them into exactly that for the people in that community.
While that program is over, the concept – that those of us in law enforcement must seek out those in local government, non-profits, health and religious institutions, schools and treatment centers – the idea that we will achieve more together – that is what today is all about.
Today’s program is designed to emphasize that strategy and some of its pieces. First, we’re going to talk about enforcement strategies around the state – what’s working and what’s not. And I suspect what you’ll hear is that we have been most successful when we share intelligence, work hand-in-hand, and figure out together where each agency can most effectively deploy its resources in combination with everyone else. The goal is to be smart, and nimble, and efficient – making sure that violent and career offenders will continue to receive tough penalties.
There needs to be an emphasis on real community policing. From my days working on Weed and Seed, I know how vital it is for people in a neighborhood to have a real relationship with the cop on the beat. I know my good friend Scott Thompson, the Chief of the Camden County Police Department, will have a few things to say about that.
And we need to constantly think about crime prevention in a comprehensive way. An after school program for at-risk kids is crime prevention. Midnight basketball is crime prevention; and so is drug treatment; and the new inspiring federal reentry court we’re running in Newark. The various ceasefire programs that are being implemented in various forms in Newark, Trenton and Camden are exactly what we should be talking about.
But it’s broader than that too. The Choice Neighborhood grants that HUD gives out to places like Jersey City and Camden are a form of prevention – creating safe, affordable housing, while encouraging stable and responsible residents. And the grants from the Department of Education for Promise Neighborhoods in the Fairmount section of Newark and Cooper Lanning in Camden are targeted at kids in distressed communities who need better opportunities and a guiding hand. And that’s crime prevention.
But let me tell you something you already know: this is hard work. It is hard for law enforcement officers to work long hours investigating homicides and gang activity and to arrest the people responsible, only to have a new group take over and continue the violence.
It is hard for community groups to attract investment into their neighborhoods and clean up parks so their children can have a safe place to play, only to have drug dealers take over those parks and investors leave because a neighborhood is too dangerous.
It is hard, in a time of real fiscal challenge, to find the money to do what we need and accomplish what we want. Layoffs, tight budgets, reduced endowments – all make it that much more difficult to put boots on the ground and shovels in the ground.
And it is hard to break out of our silos, to try to figure out how other organizations work, and to decipher how people from other disciplines think and approach the same problems from different angles. There are personalities to mesh; priorities to work out; money to tussle over; and – yes – other acronyms to learn.
But this work is too important, the mission too critical, and the stakes too high for any of us to be frustrated by those obstacles.
So today, we will – I hope – make some real strides to overcome them. We will talk about ways to engage the people in our communities – to build their trust so that they are willing to help law enforcement identify and remove the worst offenders from their neighborhoods. We will discuss how law enforcement can improve lines of communication with the people, businesses and other institutions we serve so that we can focus our resources on where they can make the biggest difference. We’ll listen while service providers explain what they need from each other to reinforce their respective goals. And we’ll brainstorm about ways in which to come up with money to make it all just a little bit easier to accomplish.
I don’t know everyone here. But the many I do know come to the table, come to this room, come to this fight with energy, with commitment, with passion, with dedication and with insight. And I also know that everyone who is here understands that developing partnerships with other people and organizations – working for the same goals in the same neighborhoods – provides a new richness, diversity and thoughtfulness to our programs, and dramatically improves our chances of success. We can combat these problems so much more effectively by working together. And I am thrilled that so many of you are willing to join us.
Thank you for coming.