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May the Task Force Be With You


Jersey City’s Quality of Life Task Force Fixes Neighborhood Complaints

 On Thursdays, police and code enforcement officers enter local neighborhoods to fix neighborhood complaints of animal abuse, tenant-landlord conflicts, and business infractions that impact residents. The unit, known as the Jersey City Quality of Life Task Force is under the auspices of Chief Prosecutor Jake Hudnut and Mayor Steven Fulop, and it targets the worst quality-of life-offenders in Jersey City. It investigates reports of public nuisances, unkempt and abandoned properties, businesses that don’t follow the laws, and other municipal code violations that require intervention by the force — and  remedies those complaints found valid.

“It could be a loud bar, a polluter, a food truck that isn’t practicing sanitary standards,” Hudnut says. “We are completely community driven. We listen to the community.”

Who is on the unit, and how does it work?

The force is comprised of a community relations police officer, police department scofflaw officers, officers from the New Jersey Division of Alcohol and Beverage Control and municipal humane law enforcement officers (who deal with animal control and welfare). Once a month, these individuals pore over  complaints they’ve received through the Resident Response Center, the police department, the city council and mayor’s office. Problems with the biggest complaints take priority.

“By and large, we’re dealing with code enforcement,” Hudnut says.

Jersey City mayors have had a quality of life task force going back to Bret Schundler, but the force was never run out of the municipal prosecutor’s office until early 2019. It was this change that made all the difference in terms of the unit’s effectiveness, according to Hudnut:

Jersey City Quality of Life Task Force Officers

“The office in charge of prosecuting the summonses and complaints is also the office that directs the day-to-day operations of the task force. By and large, this version of the task force has had tremendous success, and I think that’s because the prosecutor’s office is involved in the beginning of the process all the way to the end.”

The Quality of Life Task Force has also executed bench warrants against commercial defendants that ignored municipal court dates. (Bench warrants may be issued for contempt of court.) For instance, the force is currently involved in fixing complaints brought against a company in the Caven Point area of Jersey City that was not in compliance. The business addressed the complaints and has been removing the sources of pollution that were negatively affecting the neighborhood, Hudnut says.

“It’s the first-ever criminal investigation in the state led by a municipal prosecutor,” Hudnut says. “Now that we’ve had success, we have landlords meet us on site and literally make repairs while we’re walking around. For everybody involved, whether it’s a homeowner or business owner, the goal is compliance. Punishment is the last resort.”

If a landlord complies after receiving a ticket from the task force and fixes the problems, the prosecutors will likely dismiss the ticket, Hudnut says.

He goes on: “This isn’t about punishment, it’s about better behavior. There is a trend in the country of prosecutors’ standing up for people, not just prosecuting people. As a former public defender, I feel that when I stand up on behalf of tenants, I’m standing up for people who need a voice, and that’s what the task force allows us to do.”

Since the task force formed under Hudnut’s jurisdiction in April 2019, it has visited 190 sites, 50  since January 2020. With the help of the Jersey City Fire Department and local community leaders, the officers have relocated 19 families from unsafe unsafe housing conditions, nine since January.

“I think the task force has been a significant change that has had an impact,” Mayor Fulop says. “Often residents can’t see or feel or touch those sort of improvements. What Jakes does with the Quality of Life Task Force is very real and tangible to people. They see it on their block, so they can actually see the benefit and change. I view it as a great tool to engage the public and change neighborhoods.”

To contact the Quality of Life Task Force, call 201-547-4900.

 

Header: Jersey City Times staff

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Price Gougers Beware: Big Fines Await You


As if the current climate during the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t distressing enough, being overcharged for essentials adds a distinct insult to injury for Jersey City residents. In a few local stores, items like isopropyl alcohol, hand sanitizer and disinfectant cleaners are suddenly three to four times their usual price, as reported by consumers in the area. This is a practice widely considered to be unethical and exploitative.

Sergeant David Calton checking prices on Lysol, photo by Jayne Freeman

Price gouging isn’t new in times of crisis — merchants have been doing it for ages. But it is against the law. In light of this, and in response to numerous reports of the activity received over the past few days, Jersey City is dispensing its new Quality of Life Task Force (a division of the police department) to log consumers’ citings and contact any local businesses that may be overcharging for items such as isopropyl alcohol, sanitizer, and spray cleaners for which the demand may be higher than the supply. Based on over a dozen calls recently made to the mayor’s office and the police department, the task force has been making the rounds all over the city and issuing summonses when called for.

Today in the Heights, special agents strolled into various 99-cent-style shops inquiring about items that were said to be far above their normal retail price. For example, a regular size (16 oz.) bottle of rubbing alcohol costs $2.50 – $2.99 at most drugstores, but at many dollar stores around Jersey City such items were priced at $5.99 – $8.99. Store managers and clerks explained that this wasn’t necessarily their fault as suppliers had raised their prices of these items, forcing them (the stores) to hike retail prices proportionally in order to maintain their profit margins. But the current state statute prohibits retailers from increasing their own (retail) prices more than 10% compared to what products cost consumers immediately prior to a formal state of emergency.

Today’s inspections weren’t as dramatic as the one carried out at a dollar store on Newark Avenue yesterday. In that case, nine summonses were issued with a total potential fine of $90,000 ($10,000 for each summons.) Chief Jersey City Prosecutor Jake Hudnut, who headed up both days’ inspections, explained the difference: “We went to four stores today. None had prices as high as yesterday. Many had increased [prices] but also [had] documentation that their suppliers raised costs. That was absent yesterday. So we informed them that they could only go above 10% above the supplier’s increased costs. All the stores promised to change their prices. We will follow up. One store in Journal Square even changed their price board right in front of the officers.”

Photo by Jayne Freeman

At the very least, store owners and managers are getting the message and will certainly be taken to task by the agents assigned to protect our community from illegal and unethical activity.

If you suspect price gouging in your neighborhood, please report the matter to the Jersey City Police Department at 201-547-5477 or to the NJ Consumer Affairs Department at 800-242-5846.

 

 

 

Header: Quality of Life Task Force, photo by Jayne Freeman

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