The Citizens Campaign launched in Jersey City on June 14th of 2014. I was so intrigued that I canceled a scheduled Block Watch/Block Association meeting to attend. The Citizens Campaign was what I always strove for; empowerment without the political office entanglements, to be an effective citizen among the political savvy.
Here they were from Metuchen, equipped with free literature, experienced –successful citizens from all over the state of New Jersey and let not forget the free pizza. City Hall was packed with many residents from all over the city.
Several themes were introduced but I of course I opted for the Public Safety which included many themes from ineffective block watches, auxiliary policing and addressing crimes stemming from mental illness/drug addiction. In fact our group had two large pages of issues we discussed. There were about 30 people sitting around the stand giving input. So much goes into Public Safety, not just crimes, but street lighting, crossing busy intersections or pedestrian safety even prostitution was mentioned-I guess that’s a crime.
I am a convinced that we should have models of solutions that worked elsewhere as a foundation and tweak as we go along.
Our second meeting was in July, the group considerably smaller and Public Safety went down to five including myself and the moderator from The Citizens Campaign. This after Officer Santiago was killed at the Walgreens. Although several people talked about it during the group break outs it wasn’t directly addressed but for one disturbing concern, that of the relationship of police in certain neighborhoods or lack of. As in the other groups we narrowed our focus. We spent considerable time on Blockwatch vs Public Safety meetings. Blockwatch being a community training, still not popular but it may be the marketing as pointed by Dorian Smith the moderator and Public Safety Meetings which where reactive citizens voice their complaints to the top tier of both the Police Dept as well as political officials. This is immensely popular but it is a complaint fest and although effective it comes late as oppose to being a detriment to crime. Also this is an extremely political vehicle for those activists looking for some validation to their role in the community. I know that will upset some well respected leaders in neighborhood.
Let’s not dwell on that.
Another topic touched on and which I already mentioned were models that were successes. The LAPD has been historically been dealing with gang violence and according to Dorian it took them eight years to work out their model and show a considerable decline in gang violence/murders. Something to ponder. We also discussed Auxiliary Police, these are volunteers who are trained along with police officers except for learning how to use a weapon. I spoke to several police department heads and they seem to prefer a block watch. Also our Council President, Rolando Lavarro has already worked on adding “B” police for the less violent areas to open up the “hot spots” to experience police officers. This was announced prior to Officer Santiago’s murder. However, no one dismissed the possibly of introducing the volunteer police to the council. Another thought was getting a community review board to look over evidence of a crime which should be made public.
Last we spoke about the Disaster Preparedness. A good point in light of Super Storm Sandy, many residents were out of the loop once the electricity went out not knowing where to turn.
Our concerns were listed as follows, Disaster preparedness, criminals access to guns, alternatives to incarceration (prisoner re-entry), the relationship between police and the community in light of the recent shootings and reducing homicide rates. Ironically with all the reports the statistics are down on violent crimes in Jersey City as compared to other cities of the same size. Our priority issues which was the impetus for most of the group was 1) Relationship between the police and high-crime neighborhoods 2) Community Awareness and 3) Public Information Generation before and after a Natural Disaster. For our next meeting each member has to research at least one of these before August 27th meeting.