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Trenton has fewer homicides, more shootings in first 6 months

July 04, 2016

TRENTON — The year started off quietly enough, but the second weekend in January brought Trenton's first two homicides as a wave of violence swept across parts of the city.

Jovan Marino, 24, was shot Jan. 8 and, less than 24 hours later, 39-year-old Shawntay Ross was gunned down. Both died from their injuries.

Since that weekend, nine more people have been killed — four in the month of June alone. In the first six months of the year, there have been 11 homicides, compared with 13 in the same period last year.

The number of killings reached 17 last year, down from 34 in 2014. But authorities say that even one is one too many.

"I'm never happy," Police Director Ernest Parrey, Jr. said. "I'm always looking to do better. I believe, we as an organization, can do better, but I know that we have our limitations."

Through June 30, nonfatal shootings have risen 47 percent, to 65 from 44 during the same period last year.

The clearance rate, or the number of cases that resulted in an arrest or have been closed, is 40 percent, police Lt. Rolando Ramos said.

In all of 2015, there were 103 nonfatal shootings and 12 shooting homicides, compared with 106 nonfatal shootings and 29 shooting homicides in 2014.

Authorities say a number of factors are at play, including the prevalence of illegal guns on the streets, groups feeling territorial over their neighborhoods or simply the violence that stems from drug deals. But more commonly, police are seeing a growing willingness among juveniles and young adults to use violence to settle seemingly trivial disputes.

"You have some individuals where, for whatever reason, some sort of beef creates a hostile situation and these kids aren't settling their differences with hands," Parrey said. "It's not a fistfight. Now it seems to have escalated into a gunfight."

Stemming the flow of illegal guns is a challenge, but Parrey said the department continues to work with its county, state and federal law enforcement partners in its efforts to keep guns off the streets and out of the hands of criminals.

TIDE-TAG, an initiative begun under former acting Attorney General John Hoffman in August 2013, continues to deploy state troopers and other officers in Trenton's most violence-prone neighborhoods.

The program, which refers to Targeted Integrated Deployment Effort and the Targeted Anti-Gun initiative, uses shared intelligence to aggressively arrest gang members, repeat offenders and drug dealers who carry guns in public. Those arrested and convicted face a mandatory minimum sentence of three and a half years in prison.

To date this year, the law enforcement agencies have been able to recover 131 guns in the city, said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. Last year, 208 were recovered and in 2014, 278.

Aseltine added that acting Attorney General Christopher Porrino, who was sworn in last month, remains committed to efforts to "curb gun violence and protect the people of Trenton."

Since the start of TAG, about 230 cases have been prosecuted or are being prosecuted, a spokeswoman with the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said.

"The key is getting more police on the streets to identify the folks that are doing the gun-carrying and building cases on them to get guns off the streets before they're being used," acting Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri said.

Starting July 1, more officers from the prosecutor's and sheriff's offices were going to be deployed to supplement Trenton's regular police patrols, but even with more manpower, he acknowledged that it's sometimes not enough.

"I'm not sure that you could ever have enough police officers to prevent this spur-of-the-moment violence," he said. "But we're not sitting on our hands. We're trying to make a difference to help reduce this violence and stem the deaths."

Parrey said the department's Violent Crimes, Warrant and Street Crimes units have known criminals on their radar and are paying closer attention to areas where there is high crime or where calls have come in or ShotSpotter has been activated.

"We're all working in concert to try and make this a safe place to be," he said. "But again, the reality is, you can't rely solely on the police department. The community has to step up and take a piece of this."

The spike in crime among young people, for example, led Parrey to roll out the city's long-neglected curfew, but with a new twist. The curfew bars minors from being out in public after midnight. But rather than bring them to the station, officers will take the teens to area churches or faith-based organizations where counseling will be available.

"It's not trying to indoctrinate them with any religion; it has nothing to do with religion," Parrey said. "Young people are tragically dying and getting injured because of this unbridled violence and we have to respond to that."

Police, he said, also make home visits and follow up with teens who have violent pasts and their parents.

Though some homicides, like that of 16-year-old Ciony Kirkman and 15-year-old Maurice Wimbush-Jalaah, occurred in the late afternoon or early evening, Parrey said every bit helps.

"If I can curb one, if I can curb five, if I can curb 100, that's a success for a family who is waiting for their child to come home," he said.

Maurice Wimbush-Jalaah, 15, who was killed in a shooting Saturday afternoon in Prospect Village.

Parrey, who has advocated for a community policing model since he was named director two years ago, said the department has to do more with fewer resources and relies on residents for tips.

"In certain neighborhoods where they know things are happening, they have to be involved," he said. "The kids in the neighborhood know the kid who goes out with a 9-mm and shoots it up in the air. They need to share that information."

The department's youth programs and events like their Trunk-or-Treat and summer carnival, Parrey said, have helped them to gain the trust of more residents and have provided them with opportunities to have more positive interactions with families.

"It's almost like an introduction piece, 'This is the police officer that you're seeing riding around in a car taking enforcement action who is here with you now playing a game,'" he said.

Parrey also wants to get more officers in the schools, saying that it's just as important to sit down with the youth and answer their questions as it is to have meetings with adults and community groups.

"It's not us always telling people what to do. We do that enough," he said. "When we're out in the community and engaged in community policing, that's where we need to have productive dialogue."

NJ.com - Trenton