Stop the Violence of Atlantic County has done a lot of work but still has a lot to do, leaders agreed as they met Wednesday to look back at what’s been accomplished, and at plans for the coming year.
The group, which consists of leaders and activists from Atlantic City and Pleasantville, presented its year-end report at Richard Stockton College’s Carnegie Center in Atlantic City.
“In my entire career, I’ve never seen a body of people come together for a particular cause like Stop the Violence,” Atlantic City Deputy Police Chief Henry White told the group. “We can’t lock our way up out of the problem. This group here is so vital and so important. I just feel confident that we will make a difference.”
Plans include continuing the Stop the Silence cookouts Atlantic City hosted this past summer and community walks, youth collaborations involving Atlantic City’s and Pleasantville’s school systems, and a gun buyback program set for the spring sponsored by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.
“There is no more pressing problem facing us as a community than gun violence,” acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said. “The question is, what to do? The answer to that question is, everything.”
From more effective policing and prosecution to giving youth daily alternatives to drugs and violence, people must step up, he said.
Six of every 100,000 U.S. residents die in violence, said Dr. Jon Regis, president and CEO of Reliance Medical Group. The closest wealthy nation to that is Finland, at two per 100,000.
Violence is now a public health issue, he said, as it lowers the life expectancy of Americans.
“I’m not going to mince words,” he said. “What we’re really talking about is black male violence in the cities of Atlantic City and Pleasantville.”
A Community Safety Survey of 590 residents from Atlantic City and Pleasantville found 225, or 38 percent, said they feel unsafe, while only 27 percent answered that they feel either “safe” or “very safe.”
Of 406 people who offered suggestions as to what could be done to improve the communities’ safety, 250 mentioned a larger police presence, according to the survey presented by John Emge, executive director of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey in Atlantic County. Of those, 41 specified foot patrols or community policing.
Fixing existing cameras or adding more was mentioned 22 times.
Regis, who lives in Atlantic City, said students see the separation of Atlantic City, with the Tourism District carved out from the more troubled areas.
“You don’t think they see that paradox?” he asked to calls of agreement from the audience.
Instead, they see ways to make money for them are not jobs in the city but illegal endeavors such as dealing drugs. But he said other communities don’t allow that.
“We as a community, we have a role to play in this,” Regis said. “We have a responsibility in our own community to police ourselves. It’s not going to ever go away until the community itself decides, ‘no more.’”
Assistant Attorney General Wanda Moore said the state has a commitment to be a partner in reducing the violence in the area.
“We know there are no easy solutions,” she said. “By working together and building partnerships, we can make a difference.”
One of the things Moore has been working closely with local leaders on is a Municipal Planning Board, which joins political, religious and law-enforcement leaders to look at crime in communities from various angles. The board works with a university sponsor to track the problems and find solutions. In this case, the group will work with Alex Marino and Israel Posner of Richard Stockton College as its sponsor.
The board, based on a state model, has been in the works for more than a year, and will hold its first official meeting Thursday in Pleasantville.
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