PLEASANTVILLE — Three shootings in a nine-day span in late October have left two people dead and residents pondering the violent climate of their city.

Data from the New Jersey State Police Uniform Crime Report, or UCR, support an argument that “The Ville,” as residents call it, is a dangerous place. There have been five homicides, second only to Atlantic City in Atlantic County, and 111 violent crimes from January to September 2015, according to the UCR. 

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A recent shooting that injured one man at Jokers Field, in front of 200 kids at a youth football practice, doesn’t shake that perception of danger.

But neither that shooting nor the five deaths tell the city’s entire story. Pleasantville also serves as a “baby city” to Atlantic City, a term that describes smaller, urban satellite cities close to a major city.

When dealing with “baby cities,” perception of crime differs compared with bigger cities, said Julianne Malveaux, former president of Bennett College in North Carolina, who has worked as an economist and political commentator.

Alphonso Aikens, 37, of Pleasantville, who has been shot in scuffles in the city, said current crime issues derive from economic struggles surrounding Atlantic City. The two cities are linked.

“This whole thing is a part of poverty. It’s like a dead zone out here in Pleasantville,” he said. “Somebody walks in a back alley and anything is liable to happen.”

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Pleasantville has more than 20,000 residents in 7.2 square miles. Forty percent are black and more than 30 percent Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data.

Malveaux said people of color move to these places when the larger city isn’t accessible because the larger city is booming. People get more bang for their buck, she said, and mortgages in the smaller community are a fraction of what they’d get in the more desirable city.

“When big cities are in trouble, baby cities are as well, but more so,” she said. “Bigger cities, however, have the resources sometimes to survive.”

Those resources include jobs, diversity in shops and other amenities. Waves of crime, Malveaux said, cultivate a perception of danger in the smaller area.

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The UCR supports the notion of how dangerous Pleasantville is compared with other Atlantic County municipalities. Pleasantville’s homicide count of five for 2015 ranks second in the county, one fewer than Atlantic City, which has nearly twice the population (39,558 people) and double the area (about 17 square miles), according to census data.

The cities, however, are the only places in the county with more than 100 violent crimes this year. And the data comparisons have shocked local residents.

George Karrish, 56, who lives near Leeds Avenue School in Pleasantville, said it’s startling that Atlantic City and Pleasantville have a similar number of homicides this year, especially when his perception of the city has been pleasant.

“I’ve been here about six years,” he said. “It’s been pretty quiet to me.”

He paused for a minute, thinking.

“Maybe it’s just good where I live,” he said.

Jason Williams is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Fairleigh Dickinson University, who spent time in Ferguson, Missouri — another “baby city” — researching crime between there and St. Louis.

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He said when looking at “baby cities,” people often think of them as dangerous environments. He said his students commonly make that reference.

“When you look at (cities similar to Pleasantville), the perception is that if black people live there, then crime goes on there,” he said. “People can’t detach criminality from blackness, and the outrage in these small communities is different after crime. The feeling lasts longer.”

Michael Hayes, an assistant professor of public policy and administration at Rutgers University-Camden, said he wondered whether part of the problem between Atlantic City and Pleasantville isn’t an issue of economics.

Hayes, whose research includes public budgeting and finance as well as tax policy, said if the larger, more profitable city loses its economy, a place such as Pleasantville could easily fail.

“Neighboring places will grow as long as the larger city is growing,” he said. “Once people rapidly are going unemployed, an opportunity for crime rates could rise.”

Facing those economic issues and a recent spike in crime, the chances of Pleasantville being perceived as a dangerous place are high, said Michael Jenkins, of Scranton University, an associate professor of sociology and criminology.

He said cities such as Pleasantville typically didn’t have to worry about the type of violence seen in bigger cities, and nationally, crime is going down. The city had no homicides in 2013, and violent crime is down 7.5 percent, according to the UCR.

But for a city of this size, when the crimes are brutal, the perception swings, Jenkins said.

In October, resident Najee Thompson, 22, was shot to death on his porch, and a few days later, Sultan Veney, 36, of Atlantic City, was shot to death and found on a car.

The type of the crime adds to the perception swing, he said.

“Two shootings might not be a lot, but for a small city that (doesn’t have many), it comes off as quite a bit,” he said.

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To Calvin Johnson, 55, danger is palpable in “P’Ville.” He said it’s easier for kids to pick up a gun and sell drugs than learn something. Quite soon, he said, it won’t be numbers showing how dangerous Pleasantville is. It’ll just be a fact.

“The crime rate is just as bad as Atlantic City. It’s like clothes. It’s just a fad to these kids,” he said. “We need help. Soon, it’s going to be worse in Pleasantville than Atlantic City.”

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