If residents have said it once, they’ve said it 1,000 times: They key to reducing crime in Jersey City is more activities for teens and youth, more activities for residents in general, more jobs, and a greater police presence on the streets.
Families throughout Jersey City celebrated National Night Out Against Crime on Tuesday, Aug. 6 – just one day after the city’s new Public Safety Director, James Shea, began his new job, a position that will shift the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) under his supervision. While most residents interviewed at two of the city’s four Night Out locations said they had yet to meet Shea, they all had suggestions regarding ways the JCPD can effectively cut crime.
National Night Out Against Crime, which is celebrated annually in cities throughout the country, also came as Shea is holding a series of town hall-style meetings with residents to introduce himself and hear their concerns about crime in the city.
“I’ll tell you, the two most dangerous times of the year are the two weeks after school ends in June before summer recreation programs begin, and the two weeks after summer recreation ends before school starts in the fall,” said activist Dwayne Baskerville during the Night Out celebration in Hamilton Park last week. “Those are the most dangerous times for our youth because there ain’t nothing for them to do and they’re just hanging out on the streets.”
In 2006 Baskerville founded Go Get My Kids, an organization that tries to keep young people busy with recreational and creative programs.
Samantha Sharpe works in a pediatric office where she said she sees the affects of idle youth who have too little to do with their time.
“They need to get more teen programs to get these teenagers out of trouble. Back in my day, they had a lot of programs going,” said Peggy Dyer. “We had the CEDA [Community and Economic Development Agency] program. We had the summer jobs program. We had the youth programs where you went to [the Department of] Recreation. We had the Boys and Girls Club back then. It seems the only thing we have for the teenagers today is the Boys and Girls Club. Back in my day, we gave block parties, where the communities got together. You don’t see that no more. We got to go back old school to open up the eyes of the new school.”
The city still has a summer jobs program for teens, which Mayor Steven Fulop expanded this year.
Shawn Warren was more succinct about what she thinks will help reduce crime.
“I would like to see more cops on the streets,” she said. “That’s what I would like and more stuff for the kids to do. They don’t have no activities for the kids to do so that’s why there’re a lot of crimes out here. So if they get these kids to do more maybe there won’t be so much crime out here.”
A resident of the Hudson Gardens public housing development, Warren said where she lives is “beautiful” and said there is not a lot of crime.
“There’s crime everyplace. But in some places there’s more. What about the people that live in a bad area? They need more cops on the street.”
Samantha Sharpe, a mother of a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old who attended the Pershing Field Night Out event with her family, also said she wants to see more police, but wants them deployed differently.
“I want to see more [mobile] police stations at parks,” she said. “And I want more activities in Jersey City Heights. That way we’ll have less kids on the street. I want more activities like this [National Night Out] because it brings everybody together so it’s less fighting and less problems from the neighborhood.”
Sharpe, a Jersey City native, added that she works in a pediatric office and sees the affects of idle youth who have too little to do with their time.
School teacher: Bring back D.A.R.E.
Greenville resident and longtime Jersey City public school teacher Sioban A. Leahy said, “There is no more D.A.R.E. education in schools. We don’t have D.A.R.E. education any more, not in Jersey City. The push in Jersey City is so test driven to get these kids to pass [standardized tests] that everyone fails to realize that’s not educating a whole child. Until we start taking care of and educating the whole [person], nothing will work. I’ve taught at every level and I’ve taught special ed.”
At present, Leahy, who also attended the Pershing Field National Night Out celebration, is teaching at the elementary school level, she said.
Her daughter, Sioban F. Leahy, agreed with her mother’s comments, but added, “I also think they need to crack down on smaller drug crimes. I feel like when kids are younger it leads to bigger things. If they think they can get away with smoking weed, then they try something bigger because they got away with that… And the students don’t learn anything about drug abuse until they’re in high school. By the time they’re in high school, they’re already doing the things the schools are trying to educate them about.”
The younger Leahy, who is now an adult and a former high school social worker, said she remembers having D.A.R.E. education when she was a student in school and found it be an effective program.
Later her mother added that she has taught students who “see no way out” of bad neighborhoods and poverty. “They see crime as the only way,” she said.
The Leahys, who said the heavy presence of gangs and gang-related violence eventually makes kids “immune” to these problems, echoing a point made by Baskerville.
“It used to be you only saw shootings and other types of crimes late at night, when most people were at home asleep,” Baskerville said. “Now, we’re seeing more of this stuff during the day or when lots of people are out. This exposes more people to crime, so they’re seeing it more often. And the perpetrators don’t care. They don’t care if they accidentally shoot a grandmother going to the store or a kid in a preschool.”
Baskerville and the Leahys all agreed priorities, especially funding priorities, need to be changed.
“You say [more youth programs] are expensive. I see it like this: How much are we spending to hire more cops? How much are we going to spend to patrol our streets, to install more street cameras? How much are we going to spend to have a trial and incarcerate somebody when they’re convicted? And that’s not even including the human cost to the victims of crime.”
A ‘Night Out’ for thousands
Jersey City held National Night Out Against Crime events in Arlington Park and Audubon Park, in addition to Pershing Field and Hamilton Park. Activities at these events included organized basketball games for teens, bounce houses for younger children, live entertainment, dancing, disc jockeys, and free food.
Each location attracted thousands of participants from throughout the city.
Public Safety Director James Shea will hold the last of his town hall meetings on crime on Thursday, Aug. 15 at the Frank R. Conwell Middle School (MS 4), 107 Bright St., at 6:30 p.m.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.