In a light rain, young men and women gathered on the steps of City Hall on March 7, wearing crisp new dress uniforms and brandishing their new police badges. They were 25 of the latest recruits to the Jersey City Police Department, who were sworn in among much hoopla and cheers from families and friends.
Mayor Steven M. Fulop said these recruits bring the size of the department to 922 officers, the largest in two decades, and the new cops are one of a number of moves meant to demonstrate his commitment to public safety.
“We have made rebuilding the police department a priority since day one, and while there is still more work to do, we are proud of this new class of officers, and of where we are today with our police department,” said Mayor Fulop. ”We will continue to build the department and with each new class we hire, we will be able to increase foot patrols with officers interacting directly with members of the community, enhancing public safety and strengthening community relations.”
During the ceremony Police Captain Edgar Martinez celebrated the arrival of new recruits, looking as proud of them as the parents and friends who cheered them on from the audience.
Since taking office in July of 2013, Fulop has hired more than 250 new police officers, including this class. An additional 26 officers are also in the police academy, expected to graduate this summer.
Fulop said he has focused on bringing the department up to 950 officers, and has committed to making the force better reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of the city.
When Fulop took office, there were 779 officers in the department. Utilizing grant and capital funds, the administration has hired several new classes of officers with plans for continued expansion.
Since last spring, new officers joining the force have been assigned to foot patrols, primarily in the South and West Districts. Today’s class of officers will also be deployed to foot patrol as they start their careers to enhance visibility and expand community policing.
This comes at a time when the city faces rising costs for training at police academies throughout the state. Jersey City closed its facility more than a decade ago and has since been sending its recruits elsewhere. The cost for the next class of recruits will be double the cost for this class.
While Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise signed an order earlier this month that will begin the process of the county getting its own academy, the city must continue to pay for services outside the county if it wants to meet Fulop’s goals for a larger force.
Increasing the perception of safety
The increased police presence in the city is part of a number of moves to help deal with the perception that violent crime is on the rise in city.
There have been several community meetings held about public safety with residents clamoring for more visible presence of police, such as foot patrols. While shooting related deaths and gun violence appear to be on the rise in some sections of the city, statistics show an overall decline in crime. But the city has been pushing ahead to try to allay fears of residents, who have been pushing for more protection, and better response to shootings.
Many of the new recruits are being assigned to those areas of the city with the most serious crime issues, Fulop said.
In a series of state of the city addresses made in each of the city’s six wards, Fulop has promised to upgrade facilities. A new police station will be constructed on Central Avenue, across the street from the existing aged facility.
Martinez said the old station will be closed when the new one is complete.
In his Ward E address, Fulop promised the city would establish a new police facility there.
“We send these officers out into the most serious situations and so we want them to have strategies that will reduce the potential for violence.” – James Shea
Although last year, the city opened the long awaited West Side police station, a new facility planned for the Marion Gardens housing project were stalled because the bids came in more than $2 million over city estimates. So work that was expected to start this year will be stalled until new modified bid specifications can be drawn up.
“But I promise you there will be a facility there,” Public Safety Director James Shea said.
A new community policing office has been opened near the central shopping district on Martin Luther King Drive, designed to help foster positive relationships between residents and the police in an area that has had the most shooting incidents.
Shea said police officers are being trained to help reduce the potential for violent confrontations – particularly for members of the gun violence task force.
“We send these officers out into the most serious situations and so we want them to have strategies that will reduce the potential for violence,” Shea said.
The idea is to allow officers to have alternative methods for reducing tensions during an interaction between police and potential suspects.
“The test we give for this is pass/fail,” Shea said. “If someone fails, then they are reassigned to other duties.”
While Jersey City has been relatively free of accusations of the use of excessive force, Shea said this training will be another barrier towards protecting everybody involved.
The city is also installing a new public safety camera network that will allow police to better investigate incidents in high crime areas. This along with a voluntary database of business cameras is designed to provide more images that will help police track down criminals.
Critics of Fulop, of course, claim that public safety involves something more than just hiring more cops, to which the Fulop said there are other social programs such as summer jobs, recreation opportunities and rehabilitation programs for former jail inmates that that will provide a stronger safety network in the community.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.