JERSEY CITY - After nearly a year of demanding increased police presence on the streets, Jersey City residents will finally be getting the foot patrols they've requested.
Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy and Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey announced today that police foot patrols will be added in areas of the city with high rates of crime. The patrol officers will come from the ranks of 22 new cops who are scheduled to be sworn in this Friday.
Fifteen of these officers are being hired with the help of a $1.85 million Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The remaining seven officers are being paid for through the municipal budget.
Crime has been a top concern of residents for most of the past year and last winter led to calls for increased foot patrols and other changes within the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD). According to several political polls that have been taken in recent months, crime and public safety are likely to be big issues in the upcoming May 2013 mayoral race.
"Public safety has always been mission number one for this administration," Healy said. "One of our goals this year was acquiring grant funding to hire new officers and we have done that. We will continue to seek funding to hire more officers so thereby adding to our police presence throughout the city."
The COPS grant was actually obtained through a letter-writing campaign that was initiated earlier this year by resident and activist Esther Wintner.
Healy's critics said they welcome the announcement of the foot patrol announcement, but find the timing of the announcement to be politically motivated.
"It was only six months ago that the administration told us that there weren't enough police officers in the department to have foot patrols," said At-large City Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr. "What's changed? The mayor is in the middle of a tough re-election campaign and he's desperate to show he's doing something about escalating crime in this city."
Lavarro has been calling for increased foot patrols since February and sponsored a measure this past summer that called for an independent operational study to determine the most efficient way to deploy JCPD personnel. Lavarro withdrew the resolution after the city attorney said it exceeded the City Council's authority. Lavarro introduced another ordinance in October that sought to addresses the concerns raised by the administration, but the City Council rejected it by a vote of 5 to 4 on the grounds that only the mayor has the authority to conduct an operational study of municipal departments.
Newly elected Ward F City Councilwoman Diane Coleman, who represents some of the communities with the highest rates of crime in the city also welcomed the new foot patrols - but said more drastic changes are needed within the JCPD and the city.
"We welcome the redeployment of police, but bigger changes will ultimately come when there is a change in leadership at the top.leadership that will bring a new philosophy and urgency to making all Jersey City residents safe," Coleman said.
Both Lavarro and Coleman are allied with City Councilman Steven Fulop, who is running for mayor next year against Healy. Lavarro has already been announced as an at-large candidate on the Fulop slate next year. Although no official announcement has been made, Coleman is widely expected to be Fulop's Ward F candidate. - E. Assata Wright