Seeking answers to the seemingly intractable problem of violence in their cities, the mayors of New Jersey's three largest urban areas said Monday they are looking at inter-city collaboration as a way to stem the flow of bloodshed on their streets.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Paterson Mayor Jose Torres spoke mainly in generalities about the partnership, but said specifics would be hammered out at a mayors' roundtable that will convene in September at Rutgers University's Newark campus in conjunction with the Rutgers Police Institute.
Violence in the cities or alleged police misconduct, in Newark's case, has brought the issue to the forefront recently.
The death of a 12-year-old girl who was shot while riding her scooter to a family get-together sparked outrage and protests in Paterson. A police officer was fatally shot in Jersey City two weeks ago by a man who apparently provoked the confrontation (and who also was killed). And the Justice Department announced last week it will appoint a federal monitor to oversee a Newark police department it said is plagued by widespread misconduct and lax oversight.
Torres spoke Monday of how Operation Ceasefire, a nationwide law enforcement initiative that focuses intensively on investigating all incidences of gun violence, helped reduce shooting incidents in Paterson and increased the percentage of cases that were closed. All three cities have Operation Ceasefire programs but would now combine resources into a single unit.
"The size and scope of this unit will allow for unprecedented levels of intelligence-gathering and information sharing, yet will remain nimble enough to respond effectively to the areas designated as hot spot locations," Torres said.
Baraka said the cities should be able to use technology they already have, such as COMPSTAT, though he said the three may seek to have the state and federal government involved at some point. The mayors also will review strategies for prisoner re-entry, the foreclosure crisis and spending on recreation to identify areas in which a joint approach could produce better results. All three said the issues must be solved locally.
"It starts with public safety," Fulop said. "Recognizing that Mayor Torres is making arrests for people that we're looking for in Jersey City and we're making arrests for people in Newark and Mayor Baraka is making arrests for people in Paterson. Sometimes that happens accidentally, and we need to make that happen intentionally, and that's what we're working on doing."
Jersey City Police Director James Shea added that cooperation exists among the three cities but often is dependent on individual relationships.
"We want to make it so that it doesn't depend on those relationships, so that if somebody's transferred or promoted, we don't have a setback in the cooperation," he said. "We think by having the regular contacts we'll get in there early before something happens, instead of reacting after something happens."