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Atlantic City taking lessons from Newark on violence prevention

ATLANTIC CITY — A summer marked by violence, including the slaying of three teens, is coming to a close, but community leaders and law enforcement officials are still searching for new methods to curb youth violence.

A group of Atlantic City leaders traveled to Newark last week to learn about ongoing efforts there to keep young people away from violent activity and how those practices could be applied here.

Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy and co-author of the state’s transition report on Atlantic City, said after a recent meeting of the Atlantic City Executive Council that the key takeaway from the information-gathering visit was that building trust between law enforcement and the community was essential to combating outbreaks of violence.

“That is really one of the big points in the realm of rebuilding communities,” Johnson said.

The group, which included Johnson; City Council President Marty Small Sr.; Citizens Advisory Board Chairwoman Joyce Mollineaux and Vice Chairman Steve Young was introduced to Newark’s Community Street Team.

The street team, which is largely composed of residents with criminal records who have reformed and are trusted by at-risk youth, “takes the idea of engagement and professionalizes it,” Johnson said, noting the group received a 20-step training course on interacting with those most at risk in the city.

“They look for people who’ve been in trouble in life, and have turned their lives around, because they’re the ones that are going to be trusted by these folks that are most at risk of either killing or being killed,” Johnson said.

The Atlantic City group also looked at Newark’s “safe passage” program, which aims to provide students a path to and from school free of violence, and a victim assistance program.

The next step, Johnson said, is identifying policies and practices from these programs that could be applied in Atlantic City. The city had its seventh fatal shooting in July, the last three of which involved teenagers: 15-year-old Na’imah Bell, 18-year-old Katusca Robles and 16-year-old Quran Bazemore.

“Atlantic City is unique, so maybe we do it a little bit differently here, but there’s going to be a community outreach portion of that organization so it has got to start at grassroots,” said Mike Epps, executive director of the Atlantic City Initiatives Project office, earlier this month. “Not separate from, but in cooperation with the Police Department, the Board of Education and the hospital.” This isn’t the first time Atlantic City has turned to Newark for potential solutions. Rutgers University criminal justice associate professor Joel Caplan oversaw the city’s implementation of Risk-Terrain policing in 2017, a tool also used in Newark to help police prevent crimes by tackling factors in the environment identified as risks where crimes take place, not the people themselves. The tactic reduced violent crime in targeted areas in both cities. It decreased by about 35% in Atlantic City over a year, Caplan said. The fact that Atlantic City officials are looking into safe passages and street teams seemed like a natural next step to Caplan. He said it meshes with the department’s new, more community-oriented approach to policing.

“We’re not just looking from a law-enforcement standpoint,” police Chief Henry White said in early August. “We know we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of this problem.”

High risk for dangerous rip currents at New Jersey shore

Life-threatening surf will again be had at the Jersey Shore on Tuesday.

The National Weather Service says there is a elevated risk for rip currents.

A rip currents statement was in effect Monday and will be in effect for Tuesday. Officials also say no one should go swimming at beaches when lifeguards are not on duty.

“We’ve been flying red flags. This means restricted bathing to knee-deep only no flotation devices,” said Randy Townsend, captain of the Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol.

Rip currents, a relatively strong, narrow current flowing outward from the beach through the surf zone, have been prevalent along the Jersey Shore since the weekend.

The heavy ocean currents are running north to south, said Chuck LaBarre, captain of the Margate Beach Patrol.

“We’d go with high risk for people who aren’t always in the ocean. For those where going in the water is part of daily life, it’s a moderate,” said LaBarre.

The weather pattern over the weekend has spilled into the new week. High pressure has been stationed in New Jersey and eastern Canada. Around the clockwise spinning high pressure has been northeasterly winds. This will continue into Tuesday and part of Wednesday, before a flip in the winds for the remainder of the week and into the start of the holiday weekend.

If you’re caught in a rip current, don’t fight the current. Swimmers caught in the current should float and swim parallel to the shore line until you are out of the rip current. Call for help during this time, too.

“Always swim in front of the lifeguard stand. If you’re not sure about the water conditions, consult the lifeguard,” LaBarre said.

No deaths have been reported at the Jersey Shore during this stretch. In 2018, three surf-zone fatalities were seen in New Jersey, including in Surf City.

jmartucci-pressofac / VentuSky 

High pressure located in New England has brought a cool, damp northeast wind into the region. The image above is for 4 p.m. on Monday. 

In addition to rip currents, the onshore flow has lead to heavy surf.

Waves of 7 to 8 feet were seen at the Jersey Shore on Monday. Wave heights will stay above 5 feet on Tuesday. On a normal day, the surf heights range from 2 to 3 feet.

This has also been responsible for “cliffs” of sand along some beaches. Beaches up and down the coast have experienced erosion over the weekend.

“ (This is) the most beach erosion we’ve had ... all season,” Townsend said.

Moreover, waters rose into minor flood stage at the Cape May Harbor, Ocean City and Atlantic City on Sunday. More minor stage coastal flooding will be expected with the Tuesday p.m. high tides.

Minor flood stage is largely considered nuisance flood stage. No damage to homes or structures occur. However, pockets of flooded water will exist on susceptible roadways for a few hours around the high tides. High tides will be expected between 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday, occurring later in the more prone back bays.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

New Jersey and 18 other states sue over rollback of child immigrant protections

New Jersey joined 18 other states Monday in a lawsuit over the Trump administration’s effort to alter a federal agreement that limits how long immigrant children can be kept in detention.

“The administration is once again treating immigrant families — and immigrant children in particular — in ways that are illegal and immoral,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

A 1997 agreement known as the Flores settlement says immigrant children must be kept in the least restrictive setting and generally shouldn’t spend more than 20 days in detention.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said last week it would create new regulations on how migrant children are treated. The administration wants to remove court oversight and allow families to remain in detention for longer than 20 days. About 475,000 families have crossed the border so far this budget year, nearly three times the previous full-year record for families.

A judge must OK the Trump administration’s proposed changes to end the agreement, and a legal battle is expected from the case’s original lawyers.

“For over two decades, across administrations, the federal government followed legal protections to ensure detained immigrant children are released as quickly possible,” Grewal said. “The Department of Homeland Security’s new rule strips away those protections, allowing for the prolonged detention of children in conditions that are harmful to their mental and physical health. This new rule violates the law, and we’re going to court to stop it.”

It’s not likely that U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee would approve the changes; it was her ruling in 2015 that extended the application of the Flores agreement to include children who came with families. She ordered the Obama administration to release children as quickly as possible.

The Trump administration argued that because no states license federal detention centers, they wanted to create their own set of standards to satisfy the judge’s requirements that the facilities are licensed.

They said they will be audited, and the audits made public. But the Flores attorneys are concerned that they will no longer be able to inspect the facilities, and that careful state licensing requirements will be eschewed.

Cristian Moreno-Rodriguez, the advocacy chair of the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County, said the lawsuit was a good sign.

“We’re proud that our attorney general of New Jersey is standing up for our community. We’re proud that we’re not afraid to stand up to the federal administration when they’re wrong on the issues,” Moreno-Rodriguez said. “This is just one step on the road to justice for our community.”

Moreno-Rodriguez pointed to the issues that remain in the state for undocumented immigrants.

“To be quite honest, New Jersey is not completely absolved. We still have a detention center up in Essex (County) that has very, very questionable conditions,” he said. “They’re not totally absolved, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.”

Gov. Phil Murphy joined other New Jersey officials in decrying the DHS’s plans.

“Indefinite detention of immigrant children and families is a profoundly cruel and harmful practice,” Murphy said. “The Trump Administration’s repeated punishment of immigrant children must end now. New Jersey is committed to preventing this rule from going into practice and fighting to end this shameful chapter of American history.”

Bert Lopez, the president of the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County, called the lawsuit a bright spot.

With the move, the attorney general is challenging inhumane detention practices, Lopez said.

“I think it’s important to bring attention to it, continue to highlight how inhumane this really is, and something that most Americans really don’t tolerate and would like to see stopped,” Lopez said.

Other states joining the lawsuit are Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, as is the District of Columbia.

Staff Writer Colt Shaw, Associated Press journalists Colleen Long in Washington, D.C., and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington, contributed to this report.

Senate passes bill broadening who automatically gets mail-in ballots

TRENTON — A bill further increasing the number of people who will automatically get mail-in ballots, even if they didn’t request one this year, passed the Senate on Monday and could become law just in time for the November general election.

The bill requires election officials to send vote-by-mail ballots for all future elections to those who requested them from 2016 to 2018, unless they explicitly opt-out.

It also appropriates $2 million to help counties with the added costs. The Assembly will take up its version of the bill Tuesday.

Mail-in ballots must be sent out 45 days ahead of an election, so the law would have to be changed quickly if ballots are to be sent by Sept. 21 for the November Assembly election.

A law passed last September mandated the paper mail-in ballots be sent to all those who requested one in 2016, according to an interpretation by the secretary of state.

The 2018 law created a large spike in the number of mail-in votes cast and confusion at the polls that also resulted in a huge increase in provisional paper ballots.

Democrats said the 2018 law was intended to cover 2017 and 2018 as well. So they called a special session of the Senate on Monday, and of the Assembly on Tuesday, to vote on expanding the years covered.

“I think all of the confusion — once we do this tomorrow, it will be pretty clear,” said Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, who supports the bill. “I do think it’s a good thing. The mail-in ballot is more a convenience to some, but a necessity for others.”

The New Jersey Association of Counties filed a complaint with the New Jersey Council on Local Mandates about the 2018 law earlier this year, calling it an unfunded mandate.

That law did not appropriate any money for the counties, said NJAC Executive Director John G. Donnadio.

“We certainly appreciate the Legislature including a $2 million appropriation,” Donnadio said of the recent bill, “but we are hoping there will be a supplemental down the road or additional funding.”

Donnadio estimated the cost to counties of implementing the 2018 law was an extra $1.5 million for the 2018 general election and $1.2 million to $1.3 million for the 2019 primary election, with more added costs to come this November.

“It costs three times more to produce a vote-by-mail-in than a sample ballot,” Donnadio said.

Votes by mail must be printed on special bonded paper that can be scanned, he said.

That doesn’t include the extra labor costs of reading, checking and counting paper ballots, he said.

The trend toward greater use of mail-in ballots worries those concerned about ballot tampering and encourages those focused on increasing voter participation.

Use of the paper ballots hit a high of almost 12,000 of 96,000 votes cast in Atlantic County in November 2018, and is expected to keep increasing. Mail-in ballots were most popular in Atlantic City and Pleasantville, where there has been a history of alleged and proven vote tampering.

Provisional ballots hit a high for nonpresidential elections of 2,158 at the same time, according to officials.

The confusion was related to the many people who were automatically sent the ballots but were unaware of the new law, and showed up on election day at the polls.

Because they were on a list of having received a mail-in ballot, they were not allowed to vote by machine but had to fill out provisional paper ballots. Each provisional would only be counted once it was determined the person had not cast a vote by mail.

It cost a lot of extra money and time, said Board of Elections Chairwoman Evelyn “Lynn” Caterson last November.

Some say the same thing will happen this year since the law is again changing after a primary and right before a general election.

“I personally believe everyone who wants a mail-in ballot and is eligible to get one should get one,” Caterson said Monday. “But I also think there is a thing called voter responsibility to apply for one.”

She said the 2018 law also allowed registered voters, for the first time, to check a box asking to always be sent mail-in ballots, when they register to vote or when they apply for their first mail-in ballot.

The bill voted on Monday, S-4069, passed 22 to 10, with Democrats generally favoring and Republicans opposed.

The Senate bill was sponsored by state Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem.

In the Assembly, primary sponsors include Deputy Speaker Adam J. Taliaferro, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem; Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, D-Burlington, Camden; and Assemblywoman Patrica Egan-Jones, D-Camden, Gloucester.