“It was like something you would see in a movie,” Atlantic City resident Nicole Fischer wrote in a text sent Dec. 1, moments after a car jumped the curb on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, coming to rest on the grass.
Orkin Mitchell, 30, was behind the wheel, shot three times. He survived. But over the next four days, five people would be killed in Atlantic County, bringing the number of homicides this year to 28 — the same number as this time in 2006, when an annual record of 31 was set. That year, three people were killed in the last week of the year.
The increase in deadly violence in Atlantic City and neighboring Pleasantville is jarring to residents such as Fischer. The two towns account for almost 90 percent of the county’s killings this year. While their share over the past dozen years has been above 50 percent, this is the first time it has been more than 78 percent.
“I have lived in the city for five years, and this year alone is the worst year ever,” said Fischer, 39, who is raising her four children, a toddler grandson and 1-year-old nephew. “A bullet doesn’t have any name on it. It’s not safe to even walk the street or sit on your front porch.”
Atlantic City is one homicide away from its record of 18, set in 2006, which also coincides with a police employment low of 317 officers. The next year, the ranks grew to 366, and the homicides fell to six.
Right now, Atlantic City is at 318 officers, well below the goal of a minimum 330-member force.
Two directed patrols follow the crime trends, Chief Ernest Jubilee said. One group concentrates on high-visibility patrols, while the other walks a beat in the more troubled areas, such as Stanley Holmes Village and Carver Hall. The sergeants deploy those officers depending on where the crimes are happening.
While Atlantic City is one killing short of its record, Pleasantville passed its own Wednesday night, when two teens died in gunfire on Woodland Avenue. The city’s eight killings is double the number of homicides there all of last year.
“It was never like this,” said Betty Brittingham, 62, who has lived in Pleasantville since 1989. “We never grew up like that.”
Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle is frustrated.
He and acting police Chief Jose Ruiz have worked closely to help try to curb the violence, including partnering with agencies such as the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s and Sheriff’s offices.
Everyone should be involved in keeping the city safe, he said, challenging every adult — whether they are parents or not — “to take responsibility for the safety and success of our kids.”
In Atlantic City, police are going to meetings and into the community in an attempt to get them to report crime and get violent people off the streets.
“Our resources aren’t what they used to be, so we are relying more on the community now to come forward,” Sgt. Monica McMenamin said.
But, no real leads have come in through the new tip411 system that allows people to anonymously text tips to police — and have a two-way conversation — with all identifiers removed.
“I think they’re hesitant that they will show up on the paperwork or something,” McMenamin said. “But it is strictly anonymous. It just points us in the right direction, then lets us do our jobs.”
Even from a scene, people can text a license plate number or suspect’s direction of flight, she said.
“People are scared,” said Dewane Parker, chief of security for Atlantic City’s schools who is behind the Stop the Silence movement. “The kids have never seen it like this. The adults have never seen it like this.”
As a result, they don’t report what they know. And the people committing crimes don’t worry about getting caught.
“When they get shot, they don’t talk to police. They’re going to handle it themselves,” Parker said. “They know there isn’t anybody out there catching them.”
He called on all leaders — the mayors, City Council members and those on the county and state levels — to step up.
“We have to take hold of this thing and put the residents at ease,” he said.
“It’s getting worse and worse,” said Jan Habash, manager of Cedar Market in Pleasantville. “Every day is something new.”
He said he worries about the future of his three children growing up in a violent area. Having grown up in Jordan, he knows what that’s like.
“The way we grew up in my country, we were not allowed on the street,” Habash said. “I don’t want that for my children.”
But being on the street is a problem, resident Curtis Dillard said.
While parents are inside doing things such as dealing drugs, they push their kids onto the street, where there are negative influences, he said.
Even as a parent who watches his child, Dillard worries for his 11-year-old son. He has noticed changes in the boy, who skipped school five times without his father knowing.
“When you are in the group, as a child, your only goal is to try to fit in,” he said. “They are just kids. They are only 11 years old, and their brains only go out so far.”
Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford warned that the numbers can be misleading.
“Certainly one murder is far too many and more than we would hope,” he wrote in an emailed response. “But when you factor in the approximately 30 million annual visitors who come to Atlantic City, then the murders which occurred this year amongst our total population is about one in 500,000.”
That murder rate is much lower than the rest of the country, he said.
That doesn’t convince Fischer, who has heard or witnessed at least eight shootings since moving to the city’s Westside neighborhood from the Inlet a year ago.
“If I had it my way, I would pack and move my family out of the city, but I can’t,” she said. “It’s a shame nobody is safe from the violence. Let’s get it together and stop the violence.”
Staff writer Anjalee Khemlani contributed to this report.
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