This Saturday, July 23, the city will co-host the second of a two-day gun buy-back program to get illegal weapons off the streets. The first day of the buyback was held on July 16, after press time.
Mayor Jerramiah Healy quickly announced the buyback program, the second in Jersey City history, two days after the city had three unrelated murders within a 24-hour period.
People who turn in their illegal firearms will not be questioned by police.
The deaths also reignited questions on whether Jersey City’s crime rate has dropped, as Healy has insisted, or whether it’s increasing.
Four hours of violence
In the brief span of time from approximately 11:58 p.m. last Monday until 3:20 a.m. Tuesday morning, three men were shot in killed in separate incidents across the city.
Forty-five-year-old Craig Sampson, shot near Orient and Ocean Avenue, was the first victim, according to Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Guy Gregory. Sampson was shot at approximately 11:30 p.m. and was pronounced dead before midnight.
Barely an hour later, James Cobbs, 27, was shot and killed near 34 Rutgers Avenue at around 12:49 a.m.
Jose Pazmino, 52, was shot in the parking lot of the Dunkin’ Donuts at Manhattan and Tonnelle avenues at around 3:20 a.m.
All three victims were taken to Jersey City Medical Center where they were pronounced dead.
Up or down?
Mayor Healy has stated that violent crime in Jersey City has actually fallen in recent years.
During his State of the City address in March, he stated, “While many other cities have seen crime surge during these tough economic times, Jersey City has been fortunate to see a drop in most categories in the past year.”
The mayor said that there had been an overall 2 percent drop in violent crime from 2009 to 2010, which included a 14 percent decrease in homicides alone.
“The decrease continues the ongoing trend that saw in 2009 a 30-year low in violent and non-violent crime, including a 30 percent drop in robberies,” Healy added. “In the most serious crime category of homicide, there was a 14 percent decline last year. Additionally, people-on-people crimes declined in the category of assault.”
Non-violent crime, Healy said, was also down slightly, including a five percent drop in thefts of motor vehicles.
But statistics released earlier this year from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) show that there were 1,829 violent crimes in the city in 2010, compared to 1,791 in 2009.
Jersey City does, however, list three fewer homicides in 2010 than 2009. According to the FBI’s most recent Uniform Crime Report, there were 25 murders last year, compared to 28 in 2009.
Residents: ‘Do something’
Residents last week questioned the city’s claim that violent crime is down, arguing that anecdotal evidence does not bear this out.
In a spate of e-mails that were sent to members of the City Council last week and copied to members of the media, residents shared their recent personal experiences with crime and questioned whether the administration is being proactive enough about the city’s problem.
In one e-mail, resident Esther Wintner wrote, “In the span of a few months, our home was robbed, a man walked in to my backyard for who knows what, and my daughter was accosted in the middle of the day. Meanwhile, the administration sees fit to attempt to lay off officers while paying for health benefits for volunteer workers, distributing car perks including for personal use, maintaining a non-essential department. Etc. What’s wrong with this picture? There’s a problem.”
Another resident, John Lynch, agreed, stating, “The Healy Administration must step up. Public safety. Where is the mayor on this? We have not heard a word from him calling these murders unacceptable in Jersey City. We need outside help. Bring in the National Guard, state police, do something, mayor, to make the residents feel safe. No matter how you tout your statistics, Jersey City residents do not feel safe.”
Several residents, particularly those from the city’s Greenville community, have raised similar concerns at City Council meetings in the past.
Healy, however said the city has taken a proactive approach to dealing with crime.
“About six weeks ago, Operation Summer Shield resulted in the arrest of 176 violent offenders, which was a successful collaboration between several law enforcement agencies, including the Jersey City Police Department, the state police, the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department, the Prosecutor’s Office, and other municipal departments,” Healy said last week.
Operation Summer Shield was a five-month initiative that sought to get parole violators and violent crime suspects off the streets before the start of summer.
Just hours after these and other e-mails were circulated Healy publicly announced the two-day gun buy-back program.
The program, named Operation Lifesaver II, will be held in conjunction with the Jersey City Police Department and the Interfaith Ministerial Alliance and will be similar to a gun buy back effort held in 2005. Healy said the 2005 program, dubbed Operation Lifesaver, took 897 guns off the city’s streets last time around.
Under the program Jersey City residents can trade an illegal weapon for money. Residents who turn in rifles and shotguns will receive $100, while those who turn in handguns and automatic weapons will get $150, according to Healy spokesperson Jennifer Morrill.
Thus far the city has raised nearly $70,000 from the local business and corporate community to fund the program, Morrill stated. Money has also been raised from residents and the Office of the Hudson County Prosecutor. Healy also made a $1,000 donation to the effort.
“No taxpayer funds are used on this event,” Morrill added.
As a gun amnesty program, people who turn in their illegal firearms will not be questioned by police about crimes that may have been committed with the weapons.
Firearms may be dropped off Saturday, July 23, from noon until 4 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Church, 511 Pavonia Avenue; Monumental Baptist Church, 121 Lafayette Street; and Heavenly Temple Church, 15 MLK Drive.
A wider problem
The murders of Cobb, Sampson, and Pazmino were still under investigation at press time. The Prosecutor’s Office declined to speculate on possible motives for any of the crimes last week.
However, Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio has in the past speculated on the link between some of the city’s violent crimes and gang violence.
“There is certainly a gang component in many of these cases,” DeFazio said in January of 2010. “[The] Jersey City Police and prosecutor’s office are working together and trying a number of initiatives to crack down on this continuing pattern of violence.”
He added that there needs to be more cooperation from the community to stop gun violence.
Some residents last week suggested that communities set up neighborhood watch programs to help address the problem.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.