Egg Harbor Township

Caution tape surrounds the Vermont Avenue home where 24-year-old Arty Barrera III was found shot dead Jan. 2 in Egg Harbor Township.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Township police stressed to Zion Park residents in a meeting Thursday night that they, too, must be vigilant in regard to neighborhood safety.

“You guys are our eyes,” Capt. Fred Spano told the more than 50 residents who came to a community meeting at the library with questions and concerns after recent violent events in the neighborhood.

Arty Barrera III, 24, was shot and killed in his Vermont Avenue home Jan. 2. Three weeks later, police responded to another home nearby for a reported robbery attempt in which a man threatened the resident of the home with a gun. The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office is handling the Barrera case, and township police are handling the robbery case.

Police said there is nothing to indicate the cases are related.

Chief Michael Steinman led the meeting, which also included Spano, Community Policing Officer Eddie Bertino and Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner.

Steinman said Zion Park is not experiencing more crime than any other area of the township.

“There’s nothing that I know of indicating this is a crime spree within the neighborhood or that you’re more at threat,” he said. “Unfortunately, homicides happen. One happened right next to where I live. It doesn’t mean that the entire neighborhood is going bad.”

Committeeman Andrew Parker, who lives in Zion Park, said he went around and knocked on doors after the violent incidents and found there were a lot of questions regarding what actions residents can take to protect themselves.

Bertino said residents cannot affect a person’s desire or ability to commit a crime, but they can take away their opportunity.

“Be diligent and cognizant of your surroundings,” he said. “You have to have each other’s back.”

He encouraged residents to create a neighborhood watch, social media group or use an app to communicate with each other. He also recommended increasing lighting and suggested residents could look into legal pepper spray products if they fear for their safety.

Steinman recommended homeowners interested in using firearms on their property get training and keep up to date with training and maintenance of their firearm.

Some residents asked for more information from police when incidents happen so they can be more aware. Steinman said the department is looking into community notification tools like CodeRed and Nixle.

Some ideas included simple steps people could take toward vigilance. One resident suggested if someone hears a car alarm go off, he or she should go out and check on their neighbors.

Steinman did not provide many more details about the robbery attempt but did confirm a discarded firearm related to the incident was found on Dorset Avenue. He said police have a suspect, but no charges have been filed.

“There’s no indication that it was a random target,” Spano said.

Police said they are confident an arrest would be imminent.

Tyner, who also lives in the township, said he is personally affected when there is an incident in the community. He declined to give any information on the Barrera case other than that it was an open and active investigation.

“We need your help. That’s the bottom line,” Tyner said. “Generally speaking, we live in a relatively safe community. … When anything occurs out of the ordinary, it brings people out. You’re concerned citizens, as you should be.”

Parker said he will continue to speak with neighbors and be available for those who are concerned.

“We do have a great neighborhood, we truly do. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel scared,” Parker said. “We’re not going to stop being that because these two unfortunate situations came up.”

After the meeting, resident Jonathan Diego, who lives close to Zion Park, said he was happy law enforcement and township officials were available to address the neighborhood’s concerns.

“It was good information,” he said. “Neighbors brought up a lot of good points.”

Zion Park resident Angelique Muniz said she liked the suggestion of a neighborhood watch. She said the violent incidents made her more mindful.

“I didn’t feel that afraid, but I told my kids and my husband to be more aware of their surroundings,” Muniz said.

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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