ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Lorenzo Langford prohibited police from patrolling casino parking garages, effective immediately, through an executive order Wednesday, nine days after law-enforcement officials introduced the patrols in response to the second fatal carjacking in 16 months in the resort.
Langford didn’t return calls for comment, having left his office by the time the order was read aloud shortly after the start of the City Council meeting 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The order, however, offers an explanation for the decision: the city government’s responsibility is to its residents, “first and foremost.” To maintain their confidence, public-safety agencies must stay visible and respond quickly, it said.
But some law enforcement officials said they believe the order is more likely the latest example of Langford’s indignation toward the way the Atlantic City Tourism District has played out.
Although cooperative when Gov. Chris Christie announced the state would intervene to improve safety and economic performance in the resort, Langford soon showed his frustration — likening the state’s involvement in Atlantic City to South African apartheid and, later, the relationship between a pimp and a prostitute.
In April, he cast the sole vote against the launch of the district, which put the casinos, beaches, Boardwalk, Bader Field and other economically vital areas in control of the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. By virtue of his office, Langford gets a seat on the CRDA board.
Langford skipped the meeting Sept. 6 hiring CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri, who started Monday and was scheduled Wednesday to move into his new home in the South Inlet section of the city.
Police union President Dave Davidson Jr. said he believes that the “ongoing battle between (Langford) and the governor” motivated the order issued Wednesday.
“I think the mayor and I probably agree on that issue for much different reasons,” Davidson said.
The casinos pay 70 percent of the taxes, “so they should get a certain level of return on their tax payments,” he said.
But Davidson’s primary reason for questioning the so-called “vertical patrols” — named because officers ride up the structure — is what he sees as understaffing in the department.
Although the city budget has money to restore officers to their ranks prior to demotions during budget cuts last year, those re-promotions haven’t happened. They should, and more patrol officers should be hired, Davidson said.
In the meantime, garage patrols take officers off the street and put the rest of the force — already spread thin — in more danger, Davidson said.
Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee and Deputy Chief Henry White have said the new garage patrols would not cost more or sap manpower.
The new patrols were announced after The Press of Atlantic City published a statistical analysis showing local casinos cut security by 25 percent, on par with overall reductions, during the past five years. The city, meanwhile, had the worst violent crime rate of the country’s top-ranked gaming markets in 2010, the analysis showed.
At the time, White stressed that the nearly 30 million tourists who visited Atlantic City last year could have a strong skewing effect on statistics in light of the relatively small residential population here.
But nearly every day, police field multiple reports of gunfire in residential areas of the city, the site of 12 homicides so far this year.
Locals reacted strongly when they learned police were being pulled from the neighborhoods to keep casino patrons safer, City Councilman Mo Delgado said Wednesday.
“To take police away from community to patrol garages was to me, at first, a brash move,” Delgado said. He added that he was not clear on details and hoped the state, casinos and CRDA would consider funding overtime patrols, bringing in State Troopers or other measures to prevent draining city coffers and detracting from police presence in residential areas.
After the council meeting ended Wednesday, Jubilee said he was headed to talk to command staff about whether to pull police from casino garages Wednesday night as a result of the order.
“No division within the department of public safety shall routinely patrol the interior premises or parking garage of any private multi-level property within our jurisdiction,” Langford’s order stated.
That would not apply to privately hired safety details, said Jubilee, declining further comment.
Trump Entertainment pays for such details 24/7 at its Taj Mahal parking garage, CEO Robert Griffin said Wednesday night via email. Griffin, also president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, declined further comment.
Taj Mahal has been the site of two fatal carjackings within 16 months.
In May 2010, Martin Caballero, 47, of North Bergen Township, Hudson County, was abducted and later found stabbed to death. An Atlantic County couple are charged with murder.
A Middlesex County couple was carjacked around 8 a.m. Sept. 18 from the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort’s parking garage. 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.
Three Camden men are charged in that crime.
Just over a week later, law enforcement announced the additional patrols.
Tourism Commander Tom Gilbert would not comment on whether Langford has the authority to order the ban, but said law enforcement makes decisions based on information that may not be known to civilians.
“I think the Atlantic City Police Department has been an excellent partner in a cohesive approach to policing the city,” he said. “That (approach) includes assets at the city, county, state and federal levels. It’s critical that the law enforcement professionals be in a position to guide those efforts, because they’re the ones who know what is going on.”
Gilbert said he is confident that attention is being paid to the entire city, not just the Tourism District.
“The principle of intelligence-led policing is that you’re always going to switch your resources to where the threats are,” he said. “Our deployment strategies are integrated and everyone plays a role. To go after one part of that equation without knowing the whole equation can disrupt the flow of the overall efforts.”
Contact Emily Previti:
Contact Lynda Cohen: