ATLANTIC CITY — Even with crime rates and instances of internal affairs complaints down, communication and trust between the police and residents need to improve, residents and members of the city’s Citizens Advisory Board said Wednesday.

“The citizens of Atlantic City don’t trust the police. You have to take that into consideration,” said Malik Sadiq, 44. “We have work to do. … If we continue to speak and talk to one another and change the dialogue, we can make this work.”

The Citizens Advisory Board, the group appointed to work between residents and police to resolve issues and improve public safety, held its first public meeting Wednesday night at City Hall.

Board members spoke about the need to improve transparency and communication, while police gave a presentation on crime statistics and the new Neighborhood Coordinating Officers program that is expected to improve community policing.

But only a handful of residents sat scattered across council chambers.

Sadiq, who is a member of the Black Men United Coalition and the Peacekeepers Association, said children have to go to school and go home worrying about gunshots, and they’re suffering because of it.

“If we can find a way that we can fix these things, I think this is a start of a beautiful thing,” he said. “But we have to bring more of the community to these meetings because they don’t know this exists.”

Board members spent a good portion of the two-hour meeting speaking about how to better advertise the meetings to increase attendance.

“The way this is going right now, we’re not getting any feedback,” said member Cristian Moreno-Rodriguez, who was appointed by Mayor Frank Gilliam.

He suggested they move the meetings out of City Hall and to local churches or other locations in the neighborhoods.

Member Tom Lamaine, who was also appointed by Gilliam and serves as president of the Boardwalk Committee, said City Hall is a central location and “citizens are used to coming here to vent and let their feelings be heard.”

Board President Joyce Mollineaux said that before the next public meeting, which is set for September, any board member is welcome to suggest a change of venue.

Chief Henry White and other members of the Police Department gave a presentation on the declining crime rate in the city — violent crime dropped 30% in 2018, while nonviolent crime dropped 32% from 2017 — and a decrease in internal affairs complaints, which are down from 143 in 2014 to 52 in 2018.

“We’re not where we want to be,” White said. “We’re not perfect. But we’re trending in the right direction.”

The department introduced the leader of the Neighborhood Coordinating Officers, Lt. William Santiago, a 12-year veteran of the department.

“We’re taking it back to what it was back in the day,” Santiago said. “We knew those officers by name. You will know these officers by name.”

The plan calls for two veteran officers to be assigned to each of the city’s six wards to help solve neighborhood issues, but also to become a part of the community by participating in neighborhood events, he said.

Sadiq said police coming together with the community will be a “beautiful thing” but noted the new officers cannot be threatening to the community when they are called.

“We want to make sure as a community that none of the officers never been in a situation where they harmed a citizen,” he said. “That’s very important. That they never had a complaint against them, and they know how to talk to people.”

Also at the meeting, Mollineaux noted the board has established a drop box where the public can lodge complaints or concerns about public safety in the community, which is located on the first floor of City Hall. The public will also be able to submit thoughts via email once the city has a website up and running for the board.

Contact: 609-272-7241 mbilinski@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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