A CrimeStoppers episode recorded Thursday at Atlantic City High School will be used to promote community cookouts and walks that are planned for this summer to help law enforcement officials engage with the community.
The events are designed to be "more meaningful" than similar events last year, according to police Chief Ernest Jubilee. The cookouts will include information sessions focused on the themes of employment and job training, mental health and family life.
The events set to take place throughout the remainder of the summer begin with a July 16 cookout near Chelsea Heights School. The general goal is to address the recurring issues of violence and crime among youths in the city.
New partners for this year's events include Richard Stockton College and the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office.
"Where law enforcement has failed in the past is that we have concentrated too much on doing what seems the core function of our job, which is to apprehend people who commit crimes, prosecute them and make sure they are appropriately dealt with," said acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain. "There's another part of the job, and that is to show people in the community who are law-abiding and who want to live in a safe environment … that we are there for them. It's invaluable for them to put a face to a title."
Last year - when a series of five cookouts and community walks were held - was good, but it was just an introduction and got people's attention, said Perry Mays, who chairs the newly formed Coalition for a Safer Community, which is organizing this year's events.
Last year helped break the ice between law enforcement and the community, Jubilee said. This year it has grown to include bringing resources to the residents.
McClain said he was able to join one of the walks last year and realized that although most of his time is spent in the courtroom, an important part of his job is to get out in the community and hear firsthand what the concerns are.
As a new partner, Richard Stockton College will gather data through surveys at the event to provide to the coalition, Mays said. The outcomes and measurements will be conducted by Marissa Levy, an associate professor of Criminal Justice at the college.
Kaleem Shabazz, president of the Masjid Muhammed in Atlantic City, said that unfortunately many of the young criminals in the city are members of the Muslim community - a cycle continuing for the past 20 years.
"That's a shame and a challenge for the Islamic community to speak to that," Shabazz said. "That is why we are involved in the coalition."
The masjid, or mosque, has over the years made it clear that it is no refuge for criminals, he said.
"It's an ongoing problem and we have been attempting to address it," Shabazz said.
Shabazz cited the recent gang and drug raids in Atlantic City and said many of those arrested were linked to the Islamic community and are now in jail.
"But they are going to come out," he said, so the goal is to intervene and address the youths who are still here and warn them away from following a similar path.
"We want to make sure that there is a clear line that Islam stands for positive community action," Shabazz said.
Last year's cookouts and community walks through troubled neighborhoods took place during Ramadan, and this year's events will also mostly coincide with the Muslim holy month, which began this week.
Shabazz said he saw a significant reduction in criminal activity during Ramadan last year and is hoping to see a similar trend this year.
"If you can refrain from violence during the month of Ramadan, you can continue to follow that after Ramadan," Shabazz said.
McClain said that the only way violence is going to be overcome is by efforts from within the community. "We cannot arrest our way out of it or we cannot prosecute our way out of it," he said.
The first cookout is set for 1 to 4 p.m. July 16 at the soccer field near the Chelsea Heights School. The second is July 30 at the New York Avenue School, and the third is Aug. 24 at the Uptown School. The first community walk will be July 24 beginning at about midnight. Others have yet to be scheduled. Atlantic County Toys for Kids is giving out two new bikes at each cookout and will supply the drinks.
Contact Anjalee Khemlani:
Follow Anjalee Khemlani on Twitter @AnjKhem