James Shea, Jersey City’s new public safety director who begins in his position in an acting capacity this week, has spent the past month meeting with local residents and community groups to introduce himself and hear their concerns. Among the top questions asked at these meetings is why have there been so many shootings and murders in Jersey City since the beginning of July – at least six murders and several other crimes involving gunfire.
Last month, an 18-year-old who chased down two alleged thieves was shot and killed by one of the alleged assailants. An 18-year old suspect has been arrested in that incident and charged with felony murder.
A partially paralyzed, wheelchair-bound man was shot and killed on Ocean Avenue days later.
Shortly thereafter a third man had been stabbed to death, and a suspect has been arrested and charged with murder and weapons charges.
A dispute among three men on Montgomery Street resulted in gunshots being fired outside a mosque filled with about 200 parishioners. A 21-year-old man was shot and killed just days after a teen allegedly fired on two alleged would-be muggers at the corner of Corbin and Pavonia avenues. The month of August began with apparent accidental shooting of two bystanders near Bergen and Fulton avenues.
‘The police and the community both have a stake in the solution to the crime problem, and neither one can do it alone.’ – James Shea
Community meetings on crime scheduled
At press time on Friday, a public safety meeting was scheduled to take place on Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Mary McLeod Bethune Community Center, 140 Martin Luther King Dr. at noon.
A second public safety meeting will be held on Monday, Aug. 5 at the Christa McAuliffe School (PS 28), 167 Hancock Ave. at 6:30 p.m. Shea will host a third meeting at the Frank R. Conwell Middle School (MS 4), 107 Bright St., on Thursday, Aug. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Shea said he wants reassure the community that proactive steps will be taken to stem street crime.
“My first priority when I come in is to get a picture of what is happening, from both sides, from what exactly we have available as police resources and how they’re being deployed, and what’s actually happening out in the neighborhoods and how this recent rash of shootings is manifesting,” Shea said last week. “The only way to do that is to dig into every single shooting and see if they’re connected to each other, whether they’re connected to any of the usual suspects, meaning gangs or narcotics. You have to take each incident separately and really dig in and learn everything you can about it and compare them to each other and start seeing if you have any commonalities that you can attack.”
Shea said he has already learned some aspects of how the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) operates. But he has not yet taken a close look at the city’s overall crime patterns or specific recent incidents. As he gets acclimated to his new job he said he will be taking a closer look at the department’s resources and how they are deployed to determine what changes may need to be made on the streets.
“It’s impossible to impose a one size fits all solution to the crime problems in a city like Jersey City, because the city is so diverse,” said Shea. “Every neighborhood, every block, sometimes every block, or sometimes every building has different issues. The only way you can learn about the problems and come up with solutions is if you listen to the community.”
When asked whether the current size of the JCPD – which stands at just under 800 officers, an historic low for the department – Shea said it is too soon to make a determination on that that.
To help boost numbers on the JCPD force, Mayor Fulop has announced plans to increase the size of the current police academy class from 25 recruits to 40. This police academy class will begin this summer.
A second police academy class may be added later this year, the mayor said.
Shea said he encourages as many residents as possible to come out to these community meetings so they can begin to establish a working relationship with the new Department of Public Safety.
“The police and the community both have a stake in the solution to the crime problem, and neither one can do it alone,” Shea noted.
On Tuesday, Aug. 6, Jersey City will celebrate the 30th annual National Night Out Against Crime in Pershing Field, Arlington Park, and Hamilton Park from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Shea will official start his new position after the City Council takes a formal vote on his appointment on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.