NEWARK — A 13-year-old taking out the trash gunned down by another teenager who felt disrespected. A college-bound kid cut down by a bullet that wasn’t meant for him. An aspiring musician executed during a robbery while he delivered pizzas to support his newborn child.
Zainee Hailey, Reginald Terry and Jesus Torres were just three of the 111 people killed in Newark in 2013, when the state’s largest city suffered its deadliest year since 1990.
But those innocent lives ended by the actions of the predatory have shaken Newark community leaders and the state’s acting attorney general, who Wednesday announced the deployment of dozens of state troopers as part of a sprawling anti-crime initiative to combat a rising tide of violence in the city.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman announced the launch of the “TAG” and “TIDE” initiatives, a pair of law enforcement plans that focus on those most likely to commit homicides while also imposing stiffer gun crime penalties. Both tactics helped stem a record-breaking surge of bloodshed in Trenton last year, said Hoffman, who was flanked by leaders from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, State Police, and Newark Police Department — all gathered at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We will do everything in our power to eliminate the sound of gunfire on a daily basis and to replace it with the sound of people walking outside with their children, talking, laughing, simply enjoying their environment,” Hoffman said.
Newark had 111 homicides in 2013. Slayings have risen annually for the past five years in the Brick City, jumping by 41 percent from 2009 to 2013, records show.
Under “TIDE,” or Targeted Integrated Deployment Effort, Hoffman said dozens of troopers would patrol some of the city’s most violent areas as a deterrent against gun and drug crime, while State Police detectives will use catalogues of information about the city’s gang factions and drug markets to try to predict where violent crime will occur, officials said.
In Newark, where gun violence often sparks a cycle of vengeful attacks that ends with today’s shooting victim becoming tomorrow’s homicide suspect, police leaders plan to arrest violent individuals before they are killed or kill someone.
“The idea is to identify who may be a future shooter or our future victim. Your victim of a shooting might be your next shooter,” said Newark Police Chief Ivonne Roman. “By using intelligence, we can identify who might be a suspect and we can ensure that our officers are targeting the people responsible for the violence.”
Officials will also call on the divisions of Taxation and Alcoholic Beverage Control to crack down on liquor stores, bars and other 24-hour businesses that commit code violations, as they are often havens for crime and violence, Hoffman said.
The state will fund the $2.2 million program with money from the Division of Law & Public Safety budget, federal grants and funds seized through criminal forfeiture proceedings, according to Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office. Those funds will be used for overtime and equipment costs as well as other administrative needs, he said.
The initiative made its mark last summer as Trenton saw a record-setting surge in violence. The city had 37 homicides in 2013, its worst year on record, but 29 of those killings happened before the State Police hit the streets in mid-July, Hoffman said. In the last four months of the year, shootings fell and the city went nearly three months without a killing, Hoffman said.
The second half of Hoffman’s plan, dubbed the “TAG” or Targeted Anti-Gun initiative, will involve imposing stiffer sentences and eliminating the “cheap plea deals” he says are often given to criminals charged with gun possession. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office will now refuse to offer sentences of less than 3.5 years to criminals who plead guilty to a gun possession charge, and have prior felony convictions or known gang affiliations, Hoffman said.
In Trenton, the stiffer prosecutions have already paid dividends in the cases of more than 100 defendants charged under the TAG initiative, said Angelo Onofri, Mercer County’s first assistant prosecutor.
“We are generally finding that people are willing to talk and to provide information, and that’s actually another part of the policy, though it’s fairly subtle,” he said. “It’s not what can the defendant give to the police or the prosecutor’s office. It’s what has the defendant given before we talk about any types of reductions.”
PRAISE FROM CANDIDATES
The move was met with praise by the two men vying to serve as mayor of Newark in next month’s municipal election. South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka and former Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries both said it was long past time for the creation of a coordinated plan to tackle Newark violence.
The call to action grew out of a meeting between Newark Mayor Luis Quintana and community leaders earlier this year, according to Bishop Jethro James of Paradise Baptist Church. While city residents have long had a tumultuous relationship with their police department, James said last year’s bloodshed highlighted a need for change, regardless of who is offering it.
“I’ve been a victim of some of the crimes. I’ve buried some of my people,” he said. “It’s time to do something, and if they’ve got a better alternative, I’m willing to listen.”