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Bayonne officials seek to address rising crime

One solution is a satellite police station

Bayonne Deputy Police Chief Joseph Scerbo talks rising crime in the city at the July 20 council meeting. Photo by Daniel Israel.

Bayonne officials are looking at a variety of ways to address rising crime in the city.

Bayonne Police Department (BDP) Deputy Police Chief Joseph Scerbo addressed the public at the July 20 meeting of the Bayonne City Council. This came at the request of City Council President Gary La Pelusa, following residents bringing their concerns to the council about safety in the First Ward and the rest of the city.

Discussing rising crime in Bayonne

“I’m going to ask a representative of the police if they could come up and just talk a little bit about the increasing crime which is happening all over the country,” La Pelusa said. “Now the police are going to come up and explain some things that are going on in the neighborhood and what they’re doing about it. They’re also going to explain about the need for more policemen.” 

Prior to this, residents had aired their concerns about the way information was made public in the wake of the recent shooting near Gorman Field at First Street Park. Residents were notified that a man was shot multiple times in both arms and legs and survived on Sunday, July 17, but heard nothing further until Monday, July 18, when the story made its rounds in the local media.

“There is a strong increase in crime,” former city employee and outspoken resident Gail Godesky said. “Other municipalities notify residents almost immediately after the incident for safety reasons. It is public record. We should not have to go to the internet to learn about any crime in our city… We need to hire more police officers. The escalation of crime and increase in our population in this town support additional police officers.”

Tracy O’Connell, a local teacher and parent, spoke on behalf of citizens of downtown who are “scared and frightened” and “didn’t hear anything” further regarding the incident.

O’Connell asked: “Where’s the mayor? What’s happening? Why isn’t anyone addressing crime? We’re addressing weeds, but someone is shot a block from me. That is so scary, why is this happening and what are you going to do about it?”

Deputy Police Chief addresses recent shooting

Scerbo empathized with O’Connell: “I totally understand the way you feel as a parent and a citizen.”

Following that, Scerbo gave a detailed account of the shooting. He said a 36-year-old Bayonne man was shot multiple times in both arm and legs in the walkway area of Dennis Collins Park near Gorman Field.  

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Scerbo said. “I’m not going to get into the details of it. I can tell you it’s an isolated incident. We believe it was targeted and it wasn’t random.” 

While the BPD was notified at approximately 3 a.m., the victim had actually been shot around 1 a.m. According to Scerbo, authorities are still investigating the shooting, and cannot otherwise divulge anymore details.

In the wake of the shooting, the BPD has increased patrols, both marked and unmarked: “After the incident occurred, I ensure that we increased patrols in the area, overtly and with marked police units in the area and uniformed park-and-walks.”

Increasing police presence in the area

Scerbo said he himself has been a part of these increased patrols: “I’ve personally gone myself, several times with Sargent Steven Rhodes, the Community Relations Officer. We’ve also increased our overall presence, meaning we have plainclothes individuals out there… We have also put a remote surveillance down there. We have a video trailer camera in the area.”

In addition to increased patrols, the shooting took place in the park in an area enclosed by a construction gate. While the police have given people passes for being in the park in the past after dark, the department is now going to enforce the closure of the park at sundown. The BPD will also enforce the policy on the parking lot at First Street and Kennedy Boulevard that many frequent at night.

Scerbo noted these efforts would remain in place for the “foreseeable future.” Additionally, he reassured residents the park was safe when it is open during day time hours. 

“The police are around. We’ve increased our presence down there, I have a new supervisor down there to increase the patrols.” 

Scerbo also dispelled rumors that there had been additional gunshots at 80 Kennedy Boulevard that evening. He said police responded to fireworks in the area that night.

Addressing gun violence in Bayonne

On the topic of gun violence, Scerbo said the police have been doing their part to proactively prevent shootings. 

“Over the past year and a half, the Bayonne Police Department has recovered approximately 30 firearms off the streets between arrests and community guns,” Scerbo said. “This year, we’ve retrieved eight firearms. So we’re out there doing our job and doing it aggressively.”

O’Connell quipped that residents did not believe the police weren’t doing their job, but wanted better communication: “It’s letting us know if something is safe, what’s going on.”

Second Ward City Councilwoman Jacqueline Weimmer asked about the typical process for communication between police and residents regarding incidents like shooting. Scerbo said not much information can be released during an ongoing investigation.

“In the short term we do a media release,” Scerbo said. “We put out a media release that something occurred. It’s usually in the early stages of an investigation, so we can’t put out too many details.” 

O’Connell referenced the school district’s notification system of letting teachers and students know what’s happening in such instances. Law Director Jay Coffey chimed in that that may never be rectified, stating its a “delicate dance” the police have to do between alerting the city of what’s going on and doing their job undeterred and without causing a panic. 

However, Scerbo said the police would work with the city to address resident concerns: “We will now have some discussions with Mr. Coffey regarding some sort of critical incident notification. But on the same token, we’re not looking to panic everybody in town if a certain thing happened.” 

How the public can help; hiring more officers

Scerbo thanked residents for being concerned and for the help they provide law enforcement, and noted they can continued to do their part to help the police. He encouraged residents to leave a confidential tip if they know anything about any incident.

According to Scerbo, residents can also register their Ring door bells or surveillance cameras with the BPD registry.

“We’re not going to monitor your cameras, but if something happens in your area, we may reach out to ask if we can check accounts to help us with our investigations, and expedite them to get a successful conclusion quickly,” Scerbo said.

In response to Godesky’s calls for more police officers, Public Safety Director Robert Kubert also addressed the public at the July 20 council meeting. He noted that adding more officers to the force was something that was in the works.

We have a class in the academy now,” Kubert said. “We’re starting another class for October. All the academies were closed for two years because of the pandemic, so for most of them you can only get 8 to 10 people in at a time. And the whole state’s trying to get officers into these academies. They’re all just full and backed up. But whenever there’s an opening, we try and fill it. So we have a class in there now and another class we’re processing now to start in October.”

Kubert said the force is made up of approximately 180 members. But over the last two years, the BPD lost 30 or 40 cops to retirement, he added.

Crime on the rise, but not by much, officials say

Additionally, Kubert defended the state of crime in the city. He noted that throughout recent history of Bayonne, crime has been going down until now.

Crime rate was down for seven years straight,” Kubert said. “Last year it went up a little over one percent.” 

According to Kubert, the approximately one percent increase in crime can be attributed to a few sexual assaults and murders that occurred in Bayonne.

“Sexual assaults were all except for one, were domestic violence related incident,” Kubert said. “The other one was not a street incident, but two people who knew each other but weren’t cohabitating or married so it wasn’t effectively domestic violence.”

Domestic violence has been an issue the city has been seeking to tackle, having formed a Domestic Violence and Mental Health Task Force back in March. Regarding the two murders, Kubert said they were not random.

“The murders were all people who knew each other,” Kubert said. “We don’t live in vacuum. There’s guns out there.”  

Additionally, Kubert echoed Scerbo, that the BPD was proactively seeking to curb gun violence. He noted how two officers recently recovered two guns from a known 17-year-old gang member just the other day.

Kubert reiterated: “Domestic Violence makes up almost all of our crime.“ While the police are trying to do their job, elected officials are also seeking solutions. 

Satellite police station proposed

First Ward City Councilman Neil Caroll has kept his eye on the shooting situation, have releasing a statement on July 18 in the wake of the shooting noting patrols would be increased. Now he is proposing one potential solution to the problem: a satellite police station.

“It’s in the idea stage,” Carroll told the Bayonne Community News. “I’m trying to have a meeting with the Police Department, the necessary individuals, the mayor, etcetera.” 

Carroll said that there is a similar set up by the police in Jersey City, which Bayonne could use as inspiration for theirs. 

“One exists in Jersey City in McKinley Square,” Carroll said. “It’s no bigger than a 10 by 10 or maybe even a 20 by 10 room. It’s just a post really, we call it a satellite police station.”

According to Carroll, the police station could also accommodate bike police or the members of the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department. 

“My idea for putting it at First Street and the mouth of Kennedy Boulevard is twofold,” Carroll said. “In the summer, the bike cops could patrol First Street. They could ride up to 16th Street Park and back. That could be the central hub. The second element is because it’s Kennedy Boulevard, we could offer, and if they were willing to help us with it, we could off the Sherriff’s Department some time in the satellite station where they could monitor Kennedy Boulevard for speeders and other traffic issues and really create an inter-local crime task force.” 

Carroll said that the station will give the police a bigger presence in the area, which can help combat crime.

“Having that presence, having that visual, something tangible that is related directly to police enforcement, I think by itself, would help curtail a lot of crime,” Carroll said. “Then obviously having the cops in the building and functioning, and working, and walking a beat will do the rest of the job. I think this is good for the neighborhood and the city.”

Crime on the rise

Following the discourse and the interview with Carroll, another shooting occurred in Bayonne, this time fatal. Authorities are investigating the death of a New York man inside of a vehicle on West 21st Street, west of Avenue A on July 27.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide Unit and Bayonne Police Department are actively investigating this case. No arrests have been made at this time.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Office of the Hudson County Prosecutor at 201-915-1345 or to leave an anonymous tip at: hudsoncountyprosecutorsofficenj.org/homicide-tip. Or call the BPD at 201-858-6152. All information will be kept confidential.

Meanwhile, the BPD continues to proactively address gun violence. Police arrested a 17-year-old from Bayonne for unlawful possession of a .38 caliber revolver on . A Jersey City man was also arrested for possessing an imitation firearm for carrying a airsoft pellet gun with the orange tip painted black to look real.

Bayonne continues to grapple with rising crime, including law enforcement, elected officials, and their constituents.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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