Likely voters in Atlantic County overwhelmingly say reducing crime should be the top priority of the Atlantic City Tourism District, a poll released Monday by The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey shows.

The poll asked voters to choose what they believe is the top priority for the Tourism District froma list of six options, including "don't know." About 67 percent chose reducing crime, followed by 32 percent who said cleaning the Boardwalk and the streets was most important.

The remaining choices, which focused on the health of the casino industry, each received less than 1 percent. Other possible responses included improving downtown Atlantic City, building more casinos or gaming establishments, and building more attractions on the Boardwalk.

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The poll, commissioned by the college's William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy and conducted by IBOPE Zogby International, surveyed 400 likely voters in the 2nd Legislative District covering much of Atlantic County between May 4 and 7. It has a margin of error of 5 percent.

Sharon Schulman, executive director of the Hughes Center, said the poll provides reputable information that state leaders can look to when setting priorities for the district.

"Atlantic City has the reputation of having a crime problem. That perception is important," Schulman said. "Press reports and other outlets have shown that the problem isn't nearly as bad as people think. More than anything, they have to deal with that perception."

Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature have overhauled New Jersey's gaming regulations and created a new staterunTourism District in hopes of revitalizing the casino industry and Atlantic City's economy. The district encompasses the entire Boardwalk, Gardner's Basin in the Northeast Inlet, the adjacentMarina District and 10 gateway roads that lead into the district and to the Boardwalk.

The poll reflects the input that State Police Lt. Col. Tom Gilbert, commander of the Tourism District, has been getting. And it follows Christie's vision, he added.

"One of the cornerstones of the governor's plan has been clean and safe streets," he said. "The principles are very crucial for maintaining the viability of the city and for it to be a good place for people to live and come to every day."

Gilbert has stressed that authorities will take a holistic approach to policing the whole city and not operate strictly according to the Tourism District's boundaries.

"We've developed this into an effective public-private partnership to address some of the quality of life issues," Gilbert said. "We want to police the city more effectively by enhanced technology and partnerships."

He said he's been pleased with the involvement of all agencies within the city, including the casino industry, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and especially social service agencies.

"Clean and safe is the mantra, and I completely agree with that," said Atlantic City Deputy Police Chief Ernest Jubilee, who runs the police department's day-to-day operations.

He said he tells people that the city police cannot do it alone. The goal is a collaboration with other law enforcement and with residents.

"We're looking to partner with as many people as we can to attack the crime issues in the city as a whole, not just the Tourism District," Jubilee said.

He said crime, wherever it happens in the city, reflects on all of Atlantic City.

"It goes along with the quality- of-life issues that need to be taken care of," he said.

William Cheatham, a city resident whose Maryland Avenue home falls within the district, also agreed with the poll's results.

"Public safety should be the No. 1 priority throughout the city," Cheatham said. "The whole city should be safe. As far as I'm concerned, the whole city is the Tourism District. Our visitors should feel comfortable wherever they go."

Cheatham said he'd like to see an increased police presence in the city through foot patrols.

Atlantic City Councilman George Tibbitt, who heads the city's Public Safety Committee, said he agrees that reducing crime should be a top priority. However, he believes crime is a true problem, as opposed to just perception.

While the city bears some of the responsibility for the problem, there are other factors as well, he said.

"The city of Atlantic City is not completely at fault," he said. "Our Boardwalk casinos are cutting back on their security and youhear about robberies in the casino bathrooms and hotel rooms. They need to be held accountable, too."

Staff writers Michael Clark and Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.

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