Trenton police plan ceasefire program to decrease gun violence

At a Trenton Stop the Violence rally in April, several people spoke about the need for parents to teach kids respect for themselves and others. (Penny Ray - Trentonian)

At a Trenton Stop the Violence rally in April, several people spoke about the need for parents to teach kids respect for themselves and others. (Penny Ray - Trentonian)

With retaliatory violence being a never-ending cycle in the capital city, law enforcement officials are planning to organize a ceasefire program similar to the crime intervention efforts used in cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

With three weeks left in 2016, there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of shootings year-to-date compared to this same time period last year. Officials say there have been 147 shootings in this 8-square-mile city this year, and 178 people were struck by gunfire.

Officials say the increase in shootings is most likely fueled by unresolved disputes that have been escalating for a while.

“This year we’ve seen protracted conflicts between neighborhood cliques, which in my opinion caused the increase in shooting incidents,” Trenton Police Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez, who leads the Shooting Response Team, said. “Some of the beefs revolve around previous homicides, but we’ve had disputes related to drug distribution as well.”

This year, officials say, some neighborhoods formed loose alignments with typically rival groups to increase their manpower and fight a clique with which they both had issues.

For example, some hustlers from Spring Street, Passaic Street, North 25 and the Wilbur Section formed a loose alliance to battle street hustlers from MLK Boulevard, Perry Street, Sanford Street, Jersey and Home, Stuyvesant and Rosemont, and Prospect Village.

But, of course, the allegiances were only temporary and the aligned groups eventually returned to fighting each other.

“When one conflict started to slow down, we’d see another one flare up,” Rodriguez said.

And the gunfights did not always happen in the darkness. Officials say the number of daylight shootings increased this year, forcing law enforcement to adjust strategies, which included more daytime crime suppression efforts.

Police officials are now planning to bring rival cliques together in search of a peaceful resolution to their disputes. Officials plan to invite rival groups to a neutral location, such as a house of worship or a school, to have them discuss their differences.

“We won’t eradicate all the violence, but we must try to help these folks understand the severity of their actions,” Police Director Ernest Parrey Jr. said. “How many more young children do we have to see hit by gunfire? Bullets don’t have names on them. They’re not guided missiles; they fly everywhere. Just think about all the innocent people who have been killed this year.”

So far this year, police have identified at least three homicide victims as innocent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time: Nolman Vidal Rodriguez, who was shot while attending a birthday party on Greenwood Avenue; Ciony Kirkman, who was shot while inside a stolen minivan with six other juveniles on Jersey Street; and Amber Dudley, who was one of several passengers being transported by a Lyft ridesharing driver when a gunman tried to rob occupants of the car and fired a shot during a struggle.

Trentonian file photo - Police investigate a shooting on MLK Boulevard

Trentonian file photo - Police investigate a shooting on MLK Boulevard

“The last thing we need to see in this city is a bullet fly through a window while a child is sitting at a desk in school,” Parrey said. “We need these violent offenders to understand that their personal beefs are not worth taking someone’s life.”

Additionally, police have seized a total of 241 guns in Trenton so far this year, which includes weapons recovered by all other local and state agencies working in the city. That number is greater than the amount of guns seized in Trenton last year.

“But while the work is being done by law enforcement, those wanting to cause violence and commit crimes get younger and younger each year,” Lt. Rolando Ramos, head of the Violent Crimes Unit, said.

That’s why the department also plans to engage more youth at the elementary school level. As of now, officials focus most of their youth engagement efforts in middle and high schools, due to lack of police manpower. But as the department hires more officers, Parrey plans to have cops spend more time with elementary school kids in order to reduce the stigma associated with law enforcement and show kids they should expect a safer community.

The department hired 22 new officers earlier this year and currently has a class of 19 recruits in the police academy. The department also has enough budget to hire another class of recruits, but anywhere from 10 to 20 officers could retire within the next two years. The total amount of officers currently on the force is much lower than the number of cops employed prior to the 2011 layoffs.

“We need more resource officers to monitor the schools,” Parrey said. “A lot of this beef carries from school into the streets. It’s not only adults involved in gun violence. We have kids as young as 12 years old carrying guns. If we don’t eliminate the myth that police are bad, and that a life of crime is good, we’re not going to improve.”

City activist Darren “Freedom” Green echoed the director’s statements and said he’s willing to help police facilitate a ceasefire. But he said the city’s youth must also be taught positive conflict resolution techniques and strategies for rebuilding their lives.

“A lot of times, these rivalries are not even about money,” Green said. “I know a few murders that revolved around females. This generation needs to learn they don’t have to die when they disagree. I don’t have a problem facilitating a truce, but to transform the community we must help people become viable citizens. We need to teach the science of responsible civilized behavior.”

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