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Up to 40 people are Image result for jersey city crimeresponsible for the recent eruption of gun violence in New Jersey’s second largest city and they remain free in part because residents in the South and West districts do not provide information to police, the city’s public safety director said. The Jersey Journal reports.

“In the African-American community in the United States there is a troubled relationship with the police,” James Shea said in an interview last week. “It is a community not always well served by the criminal justice system and, understandably, there is a residue of mistrust that leads to a reluctance to cooperate.”

Since Oct. 7, there have been nine homicides in Jersey City, including seven shooting deaths, and a number of non-fatal shootings. In fact, five people have been shot dead in the city’s West and South districts since Nov. 12, including Tyreek McCord, who was killed outside of an IHOP on Route 440 early Saturday morning, and Markice Hatten, who was gunned down in the area of Neptune Avenue and Old Bergen Road at around 11:45 a.m. on Monday.

In total, Jersey City has had 21 homicides this year, 15 of which have been shootings.

When called seeking comment from Mayor Steve Fulop, Jersey City spokesman Ryan Jacobs said Shea spoke on behalf of the Fulop administration.

The public safety director, who previously served as deputy chief of the New York Police Department, said many arrests are based on an officer identifying a suspect on security video. While that is good police work, sometimes it’s not enough, he said.

“In this day and age, simple testimony of a police officer is not given the same weight as that of an independent witness,” Shea said. He also said police often waste the critical first two hours after a shooting looking for the crime scene because the victims and their friends lie about where it happened.

But Jersey City NAACP President Bill Braker doesn’t see it that way.”At some point the community is going to have to make a decision,” Shea said. “When I say there is a reluctance to cooperate, I am not condoning it. It’s a good community, but we cannot do this ourselves. We have knocked the homicide rate down to historic lows and we cannot go further without help from the community.”

“I know as a former police lieutenant who lives in the neighborhood, most people respect and want to work with the police because they care about crime in their neighborhood,” Braker said. “We at the NAACP encourage people to respect and cooperate with the police and the people I come in touch with, they respect and want to cooperate with the police in any way they can.”

The public safety director said shooters and victims tend to be 19 to 23 years old men with previous gun, drug or violence related arrests. One recent victim of a nonfatal shooting had seven prior convictions, including weapons and drug offenses.

Shea said the gun violence is being carried out by about 35 to 40 people who remain free because the community in the South and West districts rarely provide information to police. He said investigators have found “zero” witnesses to this year’s street killings.

Although the police department holds numerous meetings with community groups, Shea said: “We feel that we have to fix that relationship and the way we are doing that is providing the resources to the neighborhoods they deserve. Resources are always limited and no one ever says there are enough cops on their corner.”

Putting more cops on foot patrols may help with community relations and provide a visible police presence, but it is just one tool in effecting arrests and not always the strongest tool, Shea added.

However, Braker disagreed once again. “I think a potential answer to the recent spike in crime is higher visibility of police walking the beat on MLK (Drive) and Ocean Avenue in a consistent way, and acting truly as community-based police.”

Pamela Johnson, the founder of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement — a grassroots group seeking to reduce violence in the city and minimize its impact on young men and women — says the underlying causes of street violence need to be addressed.

“Instead of the usual reactionary approach to the violence where we blame the community for not coming forth with information, rely on the police work of the JCPD or trust the efforts of the Prosecutor’s Office, what about a proactive technique,” Johnson said in an email to The Jersey Journal. “We need programs in place for prevention measures, recreation for young men ages 18-25, re-entry that actually works, a coalition of organizations, agencies and local government to address safety.”

Johnson added that there needs to be an increased focus on the individuals who have been disenfranchised and disengaged from their family and community.

Shea said police were able to quell a spike in gun violence earlier this year in the West and South districts by putting additional resources and personnel into those areas, known as “hot spots,” and added more foot patrols.

But Shea said the criminals have adapted and police will too.

Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea said a small number of people are responsible for the recent uptick in gun violence and they remain free in part because residents in the city’s South and West districts do not provide information to police. Michaelangelo Conte | The Jersey Journal

“They shifted and we are shifting,” Shea said. “We are redeploying resources and personnel to where they will be most effective… We have a small minority of people in Jersey City who think it’s OK to harm a human being. We are down to that hardcore number of people who seem to insist on shooting each other.”

Shea said traditional organized gangs are not particularly entrenched in the city where associations of young men who commit crimes tend to be based on geographic areas and have little structure or hierarchy. Most times “young men in the West and South of the city are shooting themselves for little or no reason… Sometimes it’s tit for tat,” he said.

But a high ranking law enforcement official said the recent spike in shootings and homicides is due to the breaking of a truce that was made between groups earlier this year. While Shea denied that being true, the official also said that not calling the groups “gangs” is a mistake and represents an unwillingness to address the actual problem.

“Despite popular belief, there hasn’t been a good deal of viable resources in the South and West districts of Jersey City. Just look around! A blind man can see that the South and West of the city is a war zone which stems from the neglect of a group of people who have been deemed disposable,” Johnson said.

Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez, who said her office is working closely with the Jersey City Police Department, echoed Shea’s sentiments on the importance of having a community that works with law enforcement.

“There is a small number of individuals that are responsible for much of this violence. Our office has redeployed a significant amount of personnel to focus solely on this,” she said in a statement. “Most importantly, though, we need the public’s help with tips and information to effectively combat this.”

Shea added that social media, including Facebook, has been a forum where insults escalate and sometimes trigger violence and shootings. He also noted that the number of homicides in Jersey City in the past few years has been considerably lower than in some previous years, although the number remains too high.

During the period of Jan. 1 to Nov. 15 in 2013, there were 83 shooting with 97 victims. During the same time span in 2014, there were 72 shootings with 81 victims, while there have been 75 shootings with 90 victims this year, at the time of Monday’s homicide.

“Trust doesn’t always come easy between neighborhoods and our police department, but if we want to stop violence, trust is something we will have to build,” Jersey City Councilwoman at Large Joyce Watterman wrote in an op-ed that was recently submitted to The Jersey Journal.

“Their reasons for staying silent, I know, are different. Some are afraid. Others do not trust the police,” she added. “I understand those feelings. I do. But, if we want to see safer streets — neighborhoods where people are not being shot and killed — then this must change.

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