After three people were killed in back to back shootings in the past few days, city officials on Wednesday announced a joint operation with county and state law enforcement agencies to curb street violence heading into the new year.
Police director Jerry Speziale said the New Jersey State Police, the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office, and the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office have agreed to work with the city on “Operation Swift Justice” to attack gun violence.
Law enforcement officers from all three agencies will “blanket” the city to suppress crime, according to officials. The director said the sheriff’s office and state police will provide uniformed and plain clothes officers who will work in conjunction with the city police officers.
“We’re trying to provide police presence throughout Paterson to ensure a safe holiday season,” said Speziale.
Lieutenant Brian Polite of the New Jersey State Police said troopers have had stepped up presence along the Route 21 corridor – through which drugs and guns flow between Newark and Paterson — for some time.
“We always have state police presence in that vicinity just based on on-going initiatives,” said Polite.
Polite said he will have check and call back about any role the state police will play in the city’s operation.
Speziale said colonel Raymond Guidetti is deploying an undercover unit to the city.
“The Passaic County Sheriff’s Office is providing resources, including Officers and equipment to the Paterson Police Department for their weekend operation,” said sheriff Richard Berdnik. The sheriff’s office will provide “significant” resources to the operation, said officials.
Speziale said when he contacted Berdnik the sheriff was extremely willing to assist with the operation. The director said the prosecutor’s office which has detective posted with the city police Ceasefire Unit will contribute technologies to the operation like license plate readers and mobile cameras.
The director said all of the agencies will collect and share intelligence. “They are supporting us with mobile cameras, lighting, license plate readers, and all kinds of technologies,” said Speziale. He said the prosecutor will also provide manpower during the operation.
The initiative comes as the city has been reeling from back to back shootings. On Sunday morning, two people were fatally shot at a party inside a warehouse on 1st Avenue. Less than 12 hours later, in the corner of North 6th and Clinton Streets two more people were wounded in a shooting.
On Monday night, a woman was shot and killed inside Max’s Liquors and Bar in the corner of North 7th and Temple Streets. A man was wounded in the shooting in which gunmen entered the liquor store and opened fire, according to police.
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres said the city has taken necessary steps to respond to the uptick in violence. The police director said the city will have “sufficient” officers to respond to emergencies during New Year’s Day weekend.
Torres has been rebuilding the police department after a devastating layoff of 125 police officers in 2011. Rebuilding though has been a challenge, for even with Torres’ initiative to hire 25 police officers a year, he is merely replacing retiring cops.
The city council also passed an ordinance creating a special police force. Torres has hired 21 special police officers and the city intends to bring on an additional 29 to free up regular officers to tackle serious crimes.
Torres also filled the ranks of school crossing guards. Under his predecessor Jeffery Jones the city was using regular police officers as crossing guards pulling them from patrol and other serious duties.
“The public must remain confident that we are committed to ensuring their safety and will make every effort to fulfill our responsibility to keep them safe,” said Torres in a statement.
Speziale said the city intends to use the operation to carry it into the new year. Once 2016 begins, he said, the city will launch its Safe City Initiative it has been working on with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the past months.
“We have to do something. This is unacceptable,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, who chairs the council’s public safety committee. “Every weekend one or two people are getting shot.”