Shootings that wound a victim and other violent crimes are getting more focus in Atlantic City courtesy of the Police Department’s newest unit.
As the Atlantic County Prosecutor Office’s Major Crimes Unit focuses on homicides, the city’s Violent Crime Unit will focus on shootings in which there is a victim who lives, Deputy Chief Henry White said.
“We’re going to treat each shooting of a victim hit as if it was a murder,” he said. “We’re attacking them with a team effort that frees up these detectives to fully concentrate on the crime for follow-up without having to worry about being assigned other cases.”
The unit will have access to Special Investigations, Intelligence and Forensics to help in these cases.
With the five-person team dedicated to these crimes, it takes some things off the full plates of the general investigations detectives, explained Lt. Rodney Ruark, who heads up the VCU.
The Prosecutor’s Office used to have detectives assigned to a shooting response team, which assisted local police on shooting cases, but acting county Prosecutor Jim McClain decided to rededicate those resources to homicide investigations. White said the VCU was not done in response to that team ending, but instead mirrors what Major Crimes does only in nonfatal cases.
It also focuses on what White said is occurring around the country: A low solvability rate in shootings in which the victim lives.
“We’re trying to reverse that trend,” he said.
And, often these unsolved shootings bring more bloodshed.
“We know there are retaliation shootings that occur,” White said. “If the victim knows who shot him or her, there’s a high likelihood they go back and try to injure or kill the person that shot at them first.”
It doesn’t help that victims in these cases are often uncooperative — or flee the scene before officers arrive. That is why the department has heralded the new ShotSpotter system, which picks up gunfire and records how many shots along with when they happen.
The ShotSpotter alert came up Monday, when a house was shot up in Back Maryland. Sgt. Eugene Maier, who was on patrol, had it show up on his car’s computer as well.
But, when police got there, the shooter and intended victim were gone, Ruark said. A group of people that were likely within 30 yards of the shooter couldn’t give police any information.
“We understand why they may not want to come forward,” he said. “That’s where the (VCU) manhours come in. We’re going to have the time and ability to investigate through other means.”
While no charges have yet been filed, the team does believe it knows who the shooter — and intended target — were in another shooting that injured a bystander.
Tarra Rodriguez, 24, was inside Chelsea Pizza II on the 1700 block of Atlantic Avenue just before 1 a.m., when she was shot in the back by a bullet intended for a man outside. He fled, and so did the shooter.
“That will be investigated until all leads are exhausted,” Ruark said. “If this was assigned to a general investigation unit detective, if another priority case popped up, this would likely go to the backburner.”
The VCU did make an arrest in a June 9 carjacking.
A woman, whose identity is not being released, was heading to work at the Department of Children and Families at Kentucky and Atlantic avenues when her car was taken as she closed the gate to the parking area. The suspect ran over the woman before fleeing, breaking her left leg and causing other injuries.
The vehicle was recovered Wednesday by Camden police, who turned it over to Atlantic City, whose Forensics Unit found a fingerprint belonging to Michael Gallagher, 38, a homeless man from Camden.
Gallagher already was in custody after the victim told Detective Charles Stuart her credit cards had been used. Surveillance images of the man using her card were sent to Delaware Port Authority police, who recognized him as someone who frequents Camden PATCO station. He was stopped there and found with drug paraphernalia.
Now, Gallagher is jailed on $150,000 bail, charged with first-degree carjacking and two counts of credit-card theft.
“This is the kind of case that highlights what we intend to do in this unit,” Ruark said of the time that was dedicated to the carjacking. “Although it was a collaborative effort, it was solved through the exhaustive efforts of Detective Stuart.”
Police also continue to seek two men accused of shooting a man as he sat in his car June 8.
The VCU investigated and Detective Anthony Abrams identified the suspects as Austin Clark, 20, and Jahbri Bazemore, 18. Warrants have been issued for their arrests.
Anyone with information about any crimes in the city is asked to call police at 609-347-5766 or Crimes Stoppers at 609-652-1234. Information may also be texted anonymously to tip411 (847411) beginning the text with ACPD.
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