Jersey City establishes new Division of Quality of Life

Residents raise concerns about police power, over-taxation

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Jersey City establishes new Division of Quality of Life
The Jersey City Council adopted an ordinance creating a new Division of Quality of Life during its virtual meeting on Sept. 23.

With a 7-2 vote the Jersey City Council established the city’s new Division of Quality of Life (“QOL”) within the Department of Public Safety despite the majority of residents raising objections during public comment on the ordinance.

During the council meeting residents asked their council representatives to vote against the measure, raising concerns over enforcement, potential profiling, and the location of the division within the Department of Public Safety.

“I agree. Increasing quality of life is important, but giving the JCPD more reasons to ticket people gives them an incentive and opportunity for profiling,” said resident Jenny Tang.

Resident Marc Devens said he felt the move was just a way to fill city coffers, stating it will “more efficiently generate revenue on the backs of our city’s residents to make up for an impending budget crisis.”

Resident Arden Donnelly said she felt the move facilitated a form of taxation by citation, and opened opportunities for police harassment.

Resident Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein said this would negatively affect residents already struggling during the current economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

“We are already facing record unemployment, which likely means people won’t be able to pay tickets and fines, and unpaid tickets and fines means more warrants and more arrests,” said Barchas-Lichtenstein.

The council adopted the measure on Sept. 23 creating the division with a 7-2 vote. Councilmen James Solomon and Rolando Lavarro voted against the measure.

A ‘streamlined’ division

 The new Division of Quality of Life, headed by Municipal Prosecutor Jake Hudnut, will be housed within the Department of Public Safety and composed of the Resident Response Center (RRC), the Office of the Municipal Prosecutor, and a new Office of Code Compliance composed of the existing divisions of Commerce, Housing Code, and Sanitation that enforce local codes.

According to Hudnut, the new division will help streamline enforcement.

“With this new division, we will streamline the city’s enforcement even further, and do it with a progressive emphasis on community engagement, problem-solving, and compliance through education,” said Hudnut in a statement, noting that over the past 17 months, the city’s Quality of Life Task Force “has stood up for our most vulnerable residents by protecting them from abusive landlords, negligent businesses, and other public nuisances. This division will continue that momentum.”

According to the city, the division will reduce redundancies by consolidating several existing code enforcement offices into a single office with inspectors cross-trained on all local ordinances. This cross-training will expand evening, overnight, and weekend code enforcement responses without the city incurring additional costs.

“All residents deserve safe, clean streets and neighborhoods to call home, which is why we are expanding our efforts to efficiently address all issues within the community at any hour of the day or night,” said Public Safety Director James Shea in a statement.  “Oftentimes, residents were hesitant to call the JCPD for a non-emergency issue, but now we have one centralized resource they can count on to address all quality-of-life concerns.”

The division will be guided by an “education before enforcement” approach to encourage compliance rather than reactively respond to violations, according to the city. Court summonses will be issued as a “last resort.”

“This falls in line with conversations taking place nationwide surrounding enforcement, by using civilian inspectors and giving them more tools to address quality-of-life enforcement rather than defaulting to traditional police officer response,” said Mayor Steven Fulop in a statement.  “We want to give these violators the opportunity to correct the issues before bringing them to court; that way we can get more positive results for the residents, and everyone is happier in the end.”

Residents can report complaints to the QOL Division by caling the Resident Response Center at 201-547-4900 or by downloading the SeeClixFix or Word on the Street (W.O.T.S.) mobile apps.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.co

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