ATLANTIC CITY - Police began patrolling casino parking garages Monday, a week after a carjacking left a man dead and a woman injured.
All 12 casino garages - including the under-construction Revel - will be included, Deputy Chiefs Ernest Jubilee and Henry White said Monday. The patrols, which began at 8 a.m., will use no additional manpower or cost extra money.
"When they're not on a call, it will be part of their normal patrol," White said of the department's officers, who will patrol in cars and on motorcycles and bicycles.
The announcement was made shortly before the last of the three suspects in the carjacking at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort's parking garage made his first appearance in court.
Raheem Simmons, 18, is one of three Camden men charged with murder and other offenses after a Middlesex County couple was forced to drive from the Taj's garage just before 8 a.m. Sept. 18. They were led to an alley off the 500 block of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where they were both shot. Sunil Rattu, 28, of Old Bridge, was killed. His girlfriend, Radha Ghetia, 24, of Sayreville, was wounded and has since been released from the hospital.
Simmons told the judge he understood the charges and had retained a lawyer.
The attack was the second at the Taj Mahal garage in 16 months. It brought the issue of casino parking garage safety to the forefront
All three suspects were arrested within five days.
While public safety leaders have insisted that Atlantic City is safe, the perception that it is not has caused concern, White said. He referred to results of a Richard Stockton College poll that appeared Sunday in The Press of Atlantic City indicating that only 52 percent of the 938 people polled found the city either "very safe" or "safe." The poll also found 15 percent found it "unsafe" or "very unsafe."
"We don't feel the city is unsafe," White said. "But that perception is a problem. Perception becomes reality."
Discussions to add vertical patrols - so called because the officers will ride up the various levels of the garages - began last week during a meeting with casino security heads, he said. But the decision to announce them was made partly because of the public's perception.
"Seeing this added police presence should add a level of comfort for casino employees and guests," White said. "We at the (Atlantic City Police Department) are concerned about the city's image."
But police union President David Davidson Jr. said the problem is not just one of perception.
"The city is unsafe," he said. "It's a perceptual problem? Explain that to the victims. Explain that to the families of those folks that were murdered that it's a perceptual problem."
Atlantic City's violent crime rate was 19.7 per 1,000 people last year, putting it highest among the top 15 U.S. gaming markets. Leaders long have taken issue with the use of those numbers, saying they are skewed because Atlantic City's population - 39,000 - is the smallest of those markets, while its number of annual visitors - more than 30 million - is on par with the rest.
"I'd like to point out that the crime stats with casinos is still lower than they were pre-casinos," Jubilee said. "That's really a sign of what we're up against."
Patrols used to take place inside the garages when the department was larger, Davidson said. But things are different now, he added.
"We can't take on these added responsibilities when we don't have the proper manpower and we don't have the proper tools to get them done," he said. "The Police Department (with 330 officers) is not big enough to handle this extra responsibility on the street."
The deputy chiefs said all the patrol leaders were on board with the patrols and the casinos welcomed them.
"We've always felt that that should be a necessary part of what the city police do," said Dennis Gomes, chief executive officer of Resorts Casino Hotel. "We're extremely happy to see this added. We think it will go a long way in helping us with our security."
The Taj will keep current security measures in place along with the added patrols, spokesman Brian Cahill confirmed. That includes security details by off-duty officers it pays the city to use.
Gomes - a former Las Vegas gaming regulator - agrees that the crime numbers do not give the true picture of Atlantic City.
"If you look at the actual numbers of crimes, I guarantee you our crime would be way less than Las Vegas," he said. "And I think Las Vegas is a very safe place to be."
But perception is important, the deputy chiefs acknowledged.
"If we have to step it up so the public has more confidence in us, so be it," White said.
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