A Times of Trenton editorial described the city as a “war zone”. The author continued, “Armed, brazen street thugs are roaming the neighborhood. Grudges can erupt spontaneously, claiming the lives of the combatants and innocents alike.”
As of June, 2013, 120 people have been shot, and 15 have been killed. Four more deaths have occurred as a result of stabbings and motor vehicle crashes. The city’s crime rate exceeds that of Philadelphia, Newark, and Chicago.
This sharp increase in crime rate has been largely attributed to the city’s massive layoff of police officers that began in 2011. Since then, the Department has seen a 40% reduction in its work force. It lost more than 100 officers in 2011, despite receiving federal grants to allow for some rehiring. Officers are retiring faster than the Department can hire and train new officers. Officer casualties, including death and injury, have further depleted the force.
“The lack of police presence has empowered and given offenders the confidence to engage in criminal without fear of apprehension,” stated Police Director Ralph Rivera, Jr. “The lack of police presence gives offenders the courage to engage in criminal activity and a greater window to avoid apprehension.”
Furthermore, witnesses are hesitant to come forward, due to fear of retaliation.
George Dzurkoc, President of the Police Benevolent Association, concurred. He added that the loss of officers to death and budget cuts has lead criminals to think they can “run amok.”
“I completely agree with the police director,” Dzurkoc said. “It is not due to lack of effort on the part of the police. Our detectives are hunting down the criminals as fast as we can.”
Ironically, Rivera disbanded the Department’s street level anti-crime unit in December. This sparked outrage from both citizens and the police union, who believe that the strong police presence prevented the officers’ ability to be proactive in fighting crime.
Rivera defended this decision, attributing the increase in violence to the decimation of the police force.
“We don’t have the luxury of having numerous officers available to aggressively and consistently patrol the high crime areas that are repeatedly identified through intelligence,” Rivera said. “While our authorized manpower strength was decreased significantly, the high volume of calls for services has remained consistent.”
The Department has attempted to compensate by reorganizing patrol officers into suppression units that operate in areas where the violence is most prevalent. In 2012, New Jersey State Police have sent troopers to assist, and a few Mercer County Sheriff’s deputies have volunteered to ride along with the city officers. However, the city is still operating in a defensive manner, rather than proactively stopping crime before it occurs.
Furthermore, relying on assistance from outside agencies to assist is not a permanent solution.
It seems that no one in the community is immune to the violence. Last October, a “drive by” shooting occurred at the Good Samaritan Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Boulevard, as the congregation was being dismissed after Sunday worship services. One man was injured by a ricocheted bullet.
Reverend Joseph Ravenell, stated that the young men in the city are “unfazed” and “unafraid” to commit such heinous acts.
“It’s just the culture and the time that we live in,” he said, “Certainly the revenge concept is alive and well. (It seems) the idea of street justice outweighs the value of a human life.”
“The lack of a street crimes unit has allowed exactly what the director (Rivera) said. It has opened a Pandora’s box,” said Dzurkoc.
Learn more here: