The city council’s public safety committee has brought a new resolution before the governing body seeking a two-year study of crime data from the 15 designated trouble spots before adding or removing areas from the business curfew that forces establishments to close at midnight.
Public safety committee chairman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward, said the city’s police department needs a minimum of one-year worth of crime data for review. He said a second year is needed to study the data.
“What they’re saying is to expand or remove the hotspot [ordinance] they need at least two years of study,” said Akhtaruzzaman during Tuesday’s city council deliberations. Akhtaruzzaman said the two-year piece follows extensive discussions with the city’s police brass.
Police director Jerry Speziale said there has been discussions about the two-year study period, but he would not delve into the details. “As the police director I enforce the law, the governing body decides on the laws,” said Speziale. “I base my decisions on solid police principles and not politics.”
Politics has been behind much of clamor to roll back the business curfew that has produced results, according to anecdotal evidence. Councilman Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward, has been under intense pressure from businesses in Park Avenue and Market Street – the two main thoroughfare in the 5th Ward – to lift the business curfew. A business owner said the curfew has been “devastating” to area businesses.
The resolution creates a framework through which an area can be taken out of the business curfew. An area must have two years of crime data inclusive of seasonal shifts before a removal review can be initiated.
A review will check to see whether the conditions like non-fatal shootings, noise complaints, gangs, and drugs activities that resulted in the area being designated as a hotspot lessened. But a reduction in all of these things will not immediately result in business curfew being lifted in a particular area.
“If a hotspot becomes cool why do we have a hotspot?” asked Tavarez. “The whole idea is to get them off.”
The new resolution, which is slated for discussion during the council’s next workshop, makes lifting business curfew much more difficult by requiring post-removal steps that include continuous sidewalk patrol by off-duty police or well-trained security personnel, sidewalk facing cameras, and increased sidewalk lighting to ensure the area remains crime free.
The resolution also will enact a sweeping change in the way hotspots are added and removed. Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, said the resolution would take the power to add and remove areas from the city council and gave it to the police director.
Sayegh said with the police director in charge of adding and removing areas based on data the potential of “political football” being played with the ordinance will be diminished.
“That’s a big change,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman.
“Leave it in the hands of the experts,” added Sayegh.
“We want to give the discretion to the police department,” said Akhtaruzzaman.
McKoy disagreed with the council handing the authority to add and remove hotspots to the police department.
“We created it, we need to monitor it,” said McKoy. He said if that function were to be relegated to the city’s police, there will be “no accountability.”
City business owners have mounted a challenge to the business curfew by attempting to overturn a clause that impacts liquor establishments. So far the business owners have suffered two defeats, but they are waiting and hoping for a favorable ruling from the appellate division.
The hotspots list was created using two years’ worth of police crime data, according to the resolution. The ordinance was modeled after measures in Jersey City which was enacted in 1987 and Camden which was adopted in 2011.
The resolution notes, “The Jersey City business curfew has since 2002 been amended on numerous occasions to add or expand street areas, increasing its coverage from three (3) street areas to seventeen (17) street areas, but it has never been amended to delete or reduce street areas.”