Jersey City Police Car

Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea recently defended the city Police Department’s policy of “fixed posts” as a public safety enforcement tool and vowed to maintain them for the foreseeable future.

“I believe this is the best use of our resources,” Shea asserted. “It has worked and has knocked our shootings back down almost to our pre-covid levels.” He offered no statistics to back up that claim.

Mayor Steve Fulop echoed his support of the strategy despite the fact that “it requires a lot of overtime” to carry out. “The biggest request we get from residents from all parts of the city is for additional fixed posts on their blocks,” he added. Proof of its effectiveness, he added, is that there are “always shootings when a fixed post is removed from an area.”

Shea and Fulop delivered their claims August 18 at a community meeting at the Bethune Center convened by Ward F Council member Frank Gilmore in the wake of a gunfight August 7 at Monticello Avenue and Astor Place that killed a 46-year-old man and injured another. The incident remains under investigation.

Earlier that night, police reported two other street crime episodes: a gunfight originating at Lexington Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard after which the alleged shooter fled after injuring two men; and in a separate incident a dispute between rival neighborhood groups that ended with two men shot at Harmon Street and Arlington Avenue.

Alarmed residents from Jersey City’s southern section peppered city police brass with questions about public safety protection at the meeting, also attended by Ward A Council member Denise Ridley, whose Greenville constituents are also often in fear of street violence.

Mayor Steven Fulop and Director of Public Safety James Shea at September 8, 2020 press conference
Mayor Steven Fulop and Director of Public Safety James Shea at September 8, 2020 press conference

As further defense of the fixed-post policy, Shea cited a “deep study of Jersey City homicides” the Police Department did a decade ago which, he said, showed a pattern of longstanding neighborhood rivalries being played out where “Marion (part of Journal Square) wants to shoot Wilkinson (Avenue in Greenville); Wade (Avenue) wants to shoot Warner (Avenue). And even if they don’t know anyone there, they just want to shoot somebody, and you have innocent bystanders getting hit.”

So, Shea said, “Where we have blocks that are historically bad, we’re going to go there and stay there and we’re going to maintain them until they stop (the shootings). I believe this is the best use of our resources. And we’re going to maintain (fixed posts) until (the shootings) stop.”

In many cases, Shea said, “The shooters and victims are often interchangeable” and, in such instances, “it usually happens within sight of the house they grew up in. Trivial disputes escalate into gunplay, usually involving people who’ve known each other their entire lives. In Jersey City, we don’t have drug wars or people coming in from Newark trying to take over Jersey City.”

Shea acknowledged that in some cases “street crews” move to other locations faster than departmental surveillance can catch them.  In such instances, he appealed to the community to alert officers to those movements so the Department can adjust accordingly.

To supplement the fixed posts, the Department has initiated “walking patrols” along such blocks as Claremont, Orient, Myrtle, Grant, Van Nostrand, and Woodlawn Avenues and Oak Street, all in the city’s southern area, according to one police superior. For Gilmore, these patrols merit more attention by the Department.

“I think we get a bigger bang for a buck if we have cops walking a beat,” he said. “They can often see what’s coming down, and we have enough personnel to do that.”

But Gilmore was just as quick to note that, “unless we get to the root cause” of the violence in the street, “we’re not addressing the real problems,” which, as residents pointed out last week, can and do emerge as issues such as deviant behavior resulting from drug activity, homelessness, and mental health problems.

Two residents mentioned children going to school having to “walk over” alcoholics or “druggies” on the way, particularly those stretched out in front of Claremont Presbyterian Church and Our Lady of Sorrows. One woman likened the experience to passing through “the walking dead.”

Gilmore readily agreed.  “I see it every morning,” he said. “It looks like skid row, and I know how traumatizing it is for a child.”

Fulop acknowledged the problem, saying, “It’s one of the most complicated issues we deal with,” not just in Ward F, but “in every part of the city, with the hope that we can get help to those who need it.”  The mayor said the city has plans to allocate $500,000 to multiple providers to send trained mental health professionals into the community in hopes of persuading those in need to accept the help.

Staff from the city’s Department of Health & Human Services is in the process of developing bid specifications for this program, the mayor said.

The mayor was asked why the city doesn’t share information on violent crime with the public. He said the city does by giving it to the Jersey Journal, which chooses what to publish.

Gilmore said it’s essential for the city — with help from the grassroots anti-violence coalition, local clergy, and block associations — to get its hands around these multi-faceted issues.

“Unless we get to the root cause, we’re not addressing these problems,” he said.

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Ron Leir

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...