Seizing weapons and finding out where they came from — and where they’ve been — is the focus of a statewide crackdown on gun violence
The initiative, which includes a new Weapons Trafficking Bureau, focuses on seizing weapons in violent areas such as Atlantic City in an attempt to disrupt the supply, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa announced Thursday at the State Police Ballistics Laboratory in Mercer County.
“We’re taking direct aim at those responsible for the proliferation of guns and gun violence in our urban communities throughout New jersey, including gang members and convicted felons,” he said. “Each gun we seize potentially represents a life saved.”
They also will be tested and entered into the national ballistics database, which could solve additional crimes, he added.
The new bureau not only doubled the number of detectives assigned to weapons trafficking — teaming them up with the Street Gang units — but allowed the State Police Intelligence Section to bring in 101 guns in less than five months. That’s the same number of guns as the section brought in all of 2010, and just nine fewer than all last year.
Five of the 42 people arrested on weapons-possession charges by the bureau are from Atlantic County, including two teens arrested last month in Atlantic City with three guns. Damond Whealton, 18, and Mujahid Blackwell, 16, were found with the loaded guns inside a Back Maryland home.
The effort shows another way law enforcement is coming together in the state, and in Atlantic City, Tourism District Commander Tom Gilbert said.
“It’s a team effort in making the streets safe,” he said.
Also in that mix is the Atlantic City Task Force, which started Aug. 8. In that time, 25 guns have been seized by members, who include State Police, city police and members of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We haven’t come across a lot of guns that were stolen,” said David Smith, assistant unit head of the Task Force. “Obviously, they’re getting supplied from some source.”
In February, Eldwin Colon, 27, of Egg Harbor Township, was arrested with a stolen gun, according to officials.
Also arrested in separate incidents earlier this year were Ronnie Gillespie, 20, of Atlantic City, and Victor Vanela Jr., 20. Each had a gun.
Detectives also have seized 22 so-called “community guns,” which are hidden in places where criminals can access them, officials explained. Many of the guns were stolen or their serial numbers had been defaced.
“Taking these guns off the streets of our cities — especially shared community guns that so many people can access — is saving lives and making New Jersey safer,” said Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the State Police.
In the past three weeks, 29 defendants were indicted in the possession or sale of 52 guns, including Victor Jimenez Jr., 29, of the Landisville section of Buena Borough, and Alessi Gonzalez, 25, of Vineland. They are the first prosecutions under Chiesa’s new initiative.
In just one week last month, the State Police units arrested 34 people, seizing 18 guns, nearly 2 pounds of heroin, 3 pounds of cocaine, 5.2 ounces of crack, 20 pounds of marijuana, 3 ounces of PCP and 221 illegal prescription narcotic pills.
Officials said the arrests highlight the link between narcotics and guns.
Drug investigations have been the lead-in to identify gun sellers and buyers, officials said.
Thursday’s announcement highlighted several cases that were not local.
Two Union County men were arrested Jan. 6 on charges they were trafficking assault weapons and other guns.
On April 26, a reputed Bloods member from Newark just out of prison for armed robbery was found with seven guns, including four assault weapons.
“By focusing on guns, we get at the root of gun violence and we also build strong cases that will enable us to send dangerous offenders away for long prison sentences,” Criminal Justice Director Stephen Taylor said. “Most of the defendants we indicted for gun offenses will face mandatory periods of parole ineligibility.”
Contact Lynda Cohen: