Calling the city’s murder rate “catastrophic,” Hoffman announced initiatives that focused on deploying more law enforcement officers to combat shootings in the city’s most violent neighborhoods and simultaneously arresting and prosecuting gang members, repeat offenders and drug dealers who carry guns in public.
“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,” Hoffman said. “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.”
Trenton is on pace to set a record for the number of homicides in a single year. The record is currently 31, back in 2005. As of Thursday, there were 29 gun murders in Trenton for the year.
Hoffman announced the programs during a press conference in Trenton on Thursday afternoon.
The first program is called the “Targeted Integrated Deployment Effort” (“TIDE”) program. It’s an intelligence-driven surge in deployments to suppress violent crime. The effort will be led by the State Police and involves State Police uniformed and investigative personnel, who will work with other state, county and federal personnel.
They will work in conjunction 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, according to Hoffman. TIDE includes high-visibility patrols during peak hours. It also employes covert operations.
TIDE was launched Thursday with a targeted warrant sweep, and has already resulted in the arrest of 15 fugitives for violent crimes and other offenses, according to Hoffman.
The other program is the “Targeted Anti-Gun (“TAG”) Initiative.” This is a new arrest and prosecution strategy that brings focuses on gang members, drug dealers and repeat offenders who carry guns in public.
When the offenders are arrested by TIDE partners, Hoffman has mandated a “zero tolerance” prosecution policy that will effectively increase the sentence imposed on gun offenders in the targeted categories found in possession of a gun to at least 3 ½ years in state prison without possibility of parole. The current normal sentence is one year.
The goal is to stop criminals from carrying guns, so street confrontations do not escalate spontaneously into shootings, Hoffman said.
“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,” New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said. “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,” Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph L Bocchini Jr said. “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 most recent incident of gun violence in the city took place Thursday morning, when two police officers were wounded while responding to a domestic violence incident. The suspect was killed in that incident.
“The Trenton Police Department is committed to the collaborative efforts with our law enforcement partners and the community,” Trenton Police Director Ralph Rivera Jr said. “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,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said. “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.”
Prior to the implementation of these two initiatives, Hoffman and law enforcement officials met with members of the community, including clergy, other civic leaders, social service providers, and non-governmental organizations to discuss the impact of the programs, according to Hoffman.
Last week, Gov. Chris Christie signed 10 new gun bills into law, including 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.
On Thursday, Hoffman announced there will be no 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.