|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman today announced a two-pronged strategy to deploy more law enforcement personnel to suppress shootings in the most violent neighborhoods of Trenton, while focusing efforts on arresting and aggressively prosecuting gang members, repeat offenders and drug dealers who carry guns in public. The Attorney General called the record pace of murders in Trenton “catastrophic” and vowed to achieve results with the two new intensive programs.
Hoffman made the announcement at the Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton with Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the State Police, Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph L. Bocchini Jr., First Assistant Prosecutor Angelo J. Onofri, Trenton Police Director Ralph Rivera Jr., Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice, Mercer County Sheriff John A. Kemler, State Parole Board Vice-Chairman Samuel J. Plumeri Jr., Deputy U.S. Attorney Nelson S. Thayer, Jr., Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey Bartle of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Trenton, U.S. Marshal of the District of New Jersey, Juan Mattos Jr., Supervisory Special Agent Ludmila Reigel of the FBI Newark Division, Special Agent in Charge Nicholas J. Kolen of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration New Jersey Division, South Jersey Region, Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Cannon of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Newark Field Division, Director Michael I. Halfacre of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and Senior Special Agent Russell Glenn of the State Treasury Office of Criminal Investigation. Community leaders from Trenton also attended the announcement.
“The death earlier this month of Barry Church, an innocent man caught in crossfire while sitting on his porch, is emblematic of the escalating gun violence in Trenton, which is nothing short of catastrophic,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “While gangsters and drug dealers are more likely to be gunned down, the truth is that nobody is safe from these brazen shootings and murders that occur even on busy streets in broad daylight. We won’t tolerate it, and we’re coming out in force. Our message to the thugs terrorizing Trenton is simple: Get your guns off the street, or we’re going to take you off the street.”
Hoffman announced these two new programs in Trenton:
The “Targeted Integrated Deployment Effort” (“TIDE”) is an intelligence-driven surge in deployments to suppress violent crime led by the State Police and involving State Police uniformed and investigative personnel – supplemented by other state, county and federal personnel – working in an integrated fashion with Trenton Police uniform patrols, warrant squads and detectives. The effort is focused on the East and West Wards, which have seen the most violence. TIDE includes high-visibility patrols during peak hours, as well as covert operations. TIDE was launched today with a targeted warrant sweep in which 15 fugitives were arrested for violent crimes and other offenses.
- The “Targeted Anti-Gun (“TAG”) Initiative” is a new arrest and prosecution strategy that brings New Jersey’s tough gun laws to bear on gang members, drug dealers and repeat offenders who carry guns in public. When those offenders are arrested by TIDE partners, the Attorney General has mandated a “zero tolerance” prosecution policy that will effectively increase the sentence imposed on “tagged” gun offenders – those in the targeted categories found in possession of a gun – to at least 3 ½ years in state prison without possibility of parole, up from the current norm of one year. The goal is to stop criminals from carrying guns, so street confrontations do not escalate spontaneously into shootings.
“It will take nothing less than a collaborative effort from law enforcement on every level to properly address the increase of gun violence that has plagued the city of Trenton,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “These criminals must know that they will bear the full weight of law enforcement from the moment they hit the street with a gun in their waistband until the time the cell door slams behind them.”
“We cannot tolerate this tide of violence that has innocent bystanders being shot on their porches,” said Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph L Bocchini Jr. “My office is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Attorney General, the New Jersey State Police and the Trenton police. I have assigned my first assistant prosecutor and senior legal staff to move TAG cases through the criminal justice system. These offenders can expect us to fight for high bails; they will see expedited indictments; and they can count on us to argue for stiff sentences.”
“The Trenton Police Department is committed to the collaborative efforts with our law enforcement partners and the community,” said Trenton Police Director Ralph Rivera Jr. “We will continue to have an aggressive multi-agency approach toward arrests and prosecutions of violent offenders. We are going to engage our community to make these efforts sustainable and make this city a safer place to live, work, and invest in.”
“Gun violence threatens everyone who spends time in our cities blighted by gangs and drugs,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. “All of us at every level in law enforcement are working together and we will bring the federal hammer when appropriate. Illegal guns are primed for crime. They have no place in our communities.”
There have been 29 murders in Trenton this year, already surpassing the total of 24 for all of 2012 and rapidly approaching the city’s record high of 31 murders in 2005. Four murders occurred in the first weekend of August, when Barry Church, 52, was killed on his porch on East State Street. The three other men who were killed that weekend were 20, 21 and 22 years old. TIDE and TAG, which are newly developed strategies, are being implemented first in Trenton in response to the spike in violence.
Community support and assistance are critical to both programs. Acting Attorney General Hoffman, his Chief of Staff Lee Vartan, Colonel Fuentes, Director Rivera and other law enforcement leaders held a meeting this afternoon with stakeholders from the Trenton community, including clergy, other civic leaders, social service providers, and non-governmental organizations, to discuss the impact of the law enforcement surge under TIDE and enlist community support for the TIDE and TAG initiatives.
The TAG initiative includes a program to reach out and warn criminals not to carry firearms in public, and a community awareness campaign to enlist the public’s support in identifying those criminals who do not heed the warning. The Attorney General’s Office is mounting an advertising campaign with ads in local newspapers and on buses, bus shelters, rail platforms and billboards, asking for the public’s help in identifying violent offenders who carry guns. The ads will urge people to contact the Trenton Police Department’s confidential hotline: (609) 989-3663. A second ad campaign will send a message directly to criminals who carry guns about the lengthy prison sentences they will face.
The TAG initiative takes full advantage of New Jersey’s tough gun possession laws, collectively referred to as the “Graves Act,” which call for a mandatory minimum 3 ½-year term of imprisonment and parole ineligibility for persons convicted of the unlawful possession of a handgun, rifle or shotgun. Governor Chris Christie signed a new law last week raising that minimum from three to 3 ½ years as part of a package of 10 bills to address gun violence. The statute now specifically provides for a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, with a mandatory minimum term of parole ineligibility of one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed or 3 ½ years, whichever is greater. Under the TAG program, the Attorney General has mandated that prosecutors will make no plea offer to a “tagged” gun offender that is less than the minimum of 3 ½ years in state prison without possibility of parole. He is prohibiting the common practice of pleading out these cases for a reduced sentence of one year without parole.
The TAG designation will apply to any defendant charged with unlawful possession of a handgun, rifle or shotgun if the gun is being carried in public, including in a vehicle, and if any one of the following criteria is met: the defendant has a prior felony conviction; there is a substantial likelihood the defendant is involved in organized criminal activity, such as a street gang or drug set; the defendant has a pending charge for an indictable crime; the defendant possessed the gun while committing a drug offense; the defendant brandished or discharged the gun in public; the gun is stolen or has a defaced serial number; the defendant possesses body armor or illegal hollow point, dum-dum or armor penetrating bullets; the gun was accessible to a minor or was in a vehicle in which a minor was being transported; or the defendant resisted arrest or attempted to flee from police.
Attorney General Hoffman has mandated that gun possession cases charged under the TAG initiative be fast-tracked. He has directed prosecutors to seek maximum bail for such offenders and bail source hearings. He also has asked that lab tests on the firearms be expedited and that cases be quickly presented to grand juries for indictment. If “tagged” defendants do not accept the minimum plea offer of 3 ½ years without parole, prosecutors are directed to seek speedy trials, and following trial convictions, to seek the maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison, including five years of parole ineligibility. Hoffman has met with top New Jersey court officials to secure cooperation in moving these cases swiftly under his strict plea policy.
In addition, “tagged” defendants who meet several of the criteria, or with significant prior criminal histories, will be referred to the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office in Trenton for review. If prosecuted federally, convicted felons in possession of a firearm face up to 10 years in prison under federal law and – depending on the manner in which a gun is used in a drug-trafficking offense or a crime of violence – may face an additional consecutive term of from five to 25 years in prison. Parole does not exist in the federal system.
Intelligence indicates that gang members, drug traffickers and other street criminals who once hid or shared firearms – so-called “community guns” – have become more likely to carry their weapons in public, perceiving the need to defend themselves and their illicit drugs because they believe that rivals are likely to be armed. This perception becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and creates a vicious cycle, leading to more guns on the street and more spontaneous violence. The TAG initiative is intended to counteract that trend, or in the case of criminals who are not deterred from carrying guns, ensure that they are imprisoned for a minimum of 3 ½ years.
The well-publicized warnings about TAG prosecutions and the increased police presence under TIDE, both visible and covert, are intended to have a synergistic impact in reducing gun crime in Trenton.
The goals of TIDE include reducing the number of shootings and disrupting the drug markets in the East and West Wards, which have a direct correlation to the violence occurring in those areas. The program, which was developed by the New Jersey State Police, will be intelligence-driven and will be conducted with coordination by the State Police Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC), which will collect and analyze the intelligence developed by the participating agencies. Where appropriate, those arrested as part of TIDE will be prosecuted under the Attorney General’s TAG policy.
Law enforcement partners initiated TIDE this morning with a warrant sweep conducted by the State Police, the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, the State Parole Board, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department, and the Trenton Police Department. The sweep targeted approximately three dozen fugitives wanted by local law enforcement on charges including murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, weapons offenses, parole violations and narcotic offenses. The goal of this operation was to remove certain criminal elements from the community and generate additional intelligence to assist with the surge and related investigations. The 15 arrested fugitives have been incarcerated and officers are continuing to seek the remaining targets.
As part of TIDE, the partnering agencies will continue to identify and arrest outstanding warrant offenders, parole violators and fugitives in and around the East and West Wards. In addition, the State Police Weapons Trafficking Central Unit will be working with the Parole Board to seize illegal guns from parolees with a history of violence. TIDE also will involve enforcement efforts by the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Division of Taxation targeting liquor stores, bars and bodegas to ensure that those businesses are operating within the law and not negatively impacting community safety. Those efforts are expected to generate additional intelligence for law enforcement.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman commended the following agencies for their participation in the TIDE and TAG initiatives:
- New Jersey State Police,
- Trenton Police Department,
- Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office,
- Mercer County Sheriff’s Office,
- New Jersey State Parole Board,
- Division of Criminal Justice,
- U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey,
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, New Jersey Division,
- U.S. Marshals Service, District of New Jersey, and
- U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Newark Field Division,
- Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and
- Division of Taxation, Office of Criminal Investigation.