They were there to talk to Police Chief Tom Comey and find out how to set up neighborhood watches in their areas.
"In my area, I believe crime is escalating," said attorney Paul Catsandonis, who had recently founded the West Side Neighborhood Association. "There are a lot of cars being stolen and gangs attacking people. That's why need to start being protected as a community."
At the meeting, there was a flurry of concerns from the public such as reprisals from criminals, installation of closed-circuit cameras in their neighborhood, and improving the quality-of-life on Martin Luther King Drive.Crime stats
The heightened interest came in the wake of a police report on Nov. 6 that crime in most categories including robberies, homicide, and assault was down during the first nine months of this year, as reported in last week's Jersey City Reporter.
But that doesn't necessarily apply to every neighborhood. Among those in attendance were Deputy Police Director Arthur Pease, Councilman at-Large Peter Brennan, and Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson.
Leading the discussion were officers from the Jersey City Police Community Relations Unit, where a slide presentation was given detailing how neighborhood associations can form block watch programs. What if criminals want revenge?
Jersey City Police Officer Lorenzo Tosado of the Police Community Relations Unit gave pointers on how to form a neighborhood association.
"Everybody knows they're watching their back; your neighbor is watching your back, you're watching hers....it's a better security," said Tosado. "Some people don't know who lives next to them. This way you can get to know who lives around you."
Tosado also gave advice on avoiding one of the common mistakes of those involved in a block watch. - "Don't make everyone out to be a suspicious person."
Tosado also described how residents can be "anonymous and secure" by giving an ID only known to the police when someone calls in with a complaint or tip.
But a meeting that was relatively calm grew a bit more animated when Catsandonis, a practicing attorney, posed a question of how to protect a block watcher's identity if they provide a tip.
Tosado said he didn't believe any information about a block watcher will be revealed in court, and Councilwoman Richardson said she hadn't seen a situation like the one Catsandonis described in her 12 years she served as Community Relations Unit Officer while in the JCPD.
But soon, other residents expressed fear that criminals will find out, especially since they would know who was in the block watch in their neighborhood.
One resident said she feared press reporting about "neighbors or concerned citizens" informing police when a crime is committed. Criminals break lights on MLK
A Martin Luther King Drive merchant spoke of the constant problems of street lights that are shut off on MLK Drive, as the result of drug dealers and other criminal elements cutting wires to the lights.
Richardson said her office has worked with the city to document hundreds of lights that were broken on MLK Drive, but admitted it was an uphill struggle.
"They fixed every one of them, but almost as soon as they were replaced or fixed, they were broken again," said Richardson.
One resident inquired about more closed-circuit TV cameras being installed in the neighborhood. Officials at the meeting said the cameras can be paid for through state Urban Enterprise Zone funds.
Pease said Jersey City is working on installing 55 to 60 CCTV cameras around the city in the future, but no date has been determined until more funding is available.
Pease also encouraged the attendees to be more proactive in forming neighborhood watch groups despite their fears, citing 40 years working for the police and seeing the power of such groups, particularly at a time when the police is understaffed.
"Block watches do work," Pease said, "because 800 police officers can't do it alone." Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com