Last night’s unfortunate deaths mark our 38th and 39th homicides for the year and now eclipse the previous record set in 2013. When we set out to lift Trenton together, this was not the milestone we wanted to see. In fact, overall crime was trending downward the previous two years, with 16 homicides in 2018 and 15 homicides in 2019.
2020 is a year of many challenges, but none looms larger than COVID-19. Of all the factors that separate the previous years from this one, this virus clearly stands out, not just here but in so many places across the country.
Economic uncertainty is higher than it has ever been in recent memory. School was for some children the only safe space they had. Youth engagement and recreational activities have grinded to a halt. Every police officer who has to quarantine for 14 days is one less guardian on the street, a heavy blow for a police department that is already much smaller than it was just a few years ago.
I understand this provides little comfort to the family and friends that lost loved ones to the violence. I’ve sat with the families. I’ve visited the hospitals. They don’t want excuses. They want a city that is safe for their children.
But safety will never be possible if we don’t stop the ready supply of weapons that are used in these crimes. Thankfully, the Trenton Police Department (TPD) has already seized more than 200 guns and 3,000 rounds of ammunition this year alone. God only knows how much worse things would be if these weapons were still on the street.
Also, our law enforcement partners at the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and the N.J. State Police continue to help the capital city at a time when they are needed the most. Just a few weeks ago the N.J. State Police and the TPD arrested two-gun traffickers who were peddling firearms from South Carolina into Trenton streets. They also arrested 24 individuals and recovered more than a dozen weapons after a raid on Tyrell Street last week.
This critical partnership will continue in our real-time crime center that will make it even easier to collaborate on gunfire detection and hotspot surveillance when it goes live early next year.
While the police department works to dismantle crime in our streets, my administration is working to address the very environment in which it festers. We established a new re-entry program to break the recidivism that traps so many of our residents in an endless cycle of crime. We’re building new safe and affordable housing for residents and improving community centers all around the city. We’re also making loans available for businesses who are affected by COVID-19 to help keep Trentonians employed.
We can’t do it alone. When Gustavo and Johnny Perez were tragically murdered in October and we pleaded with the community to cooperate with the police, many of you responded. Thankfully, tips to the TPD have gone up since then, and we hope we can count on this trend in the future.
Please, continue to get involved. If you are a business, register your cameras with Trenton Crime Eye. If you are a resident, ask the TPD about participating in its new Block Watch Program. As always, if you see something, say something on the TPD’s anonymous tip line at 609-989-3663.
We can never make up for the losses our city suffered this year. We are carefully evaluating Trenton law enforcement leadership and strategy at this moment. We owe it to our residents to explore every possible avenue to ensure 2021 is not a repeat of 2020.