Three outrageous killings in less than a month shook the entire Bridgeton community this summer — a 9-year-old in her bedroom hit by stray gunfire, a football coach gunned down in a school parking lot and a middle-aged woman shot in the head on her front porch.
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said investigators are working vigorously to solve the cases. Arrests have been made in the child’s killing.
Webb-McRae, who grew up in the county, said law enforcement alone ultimately isn’t enough.
“What I want the community to know is that we can’t do it alone,” she said. “This is a village, and we all have a part to play in its success.”
Cooperating with and providing information to law enforcement agencies is always the priority when getting communities involved with crime solving and reduction. And in this case, Webb-McRae said, investigators have had difficulty getting witnesses to cooperate. Tips can be submitted anonymously via text to 847411 or online at njccpo.org.
That’s only the beginning. There’s much more residents can do to make their community safer, closer and a better place to live.
Towns and cities around the world have faced this challenge and found success with programs, behaviors and attitudes.
Start with learning about your neighborhood and what’s normal for it, to help see when something is wrong. Join or start a group to watch the block or community. This can help identify high-risk groups and gangs.
Then communicate with police to help them identify potential offenders and crime hot spots. Get to know neighbors and who belongs in the neighborhood, the easier to recognize who doesn’t. Then if children get into trouble or damage property, you know which parents to tell.
Talking to law enforcement goes both ways. They can support residents and educate them about what activities are suspicious, how burglars operate, how to make oneself and one’s home less of a target for crime.
Communities can put lockable gates on alleys to restrict access to local residents. They can improve visibility by adding lighting or trimming plants. Maybe police can loan an engraving tool for community members to mark their property in case it’s stolen. Doors and windows can be hardened.
Potential offenders can be alerted about more effective enforcement and prosecution — and directed to social service agencies and community organizations and groups that can help them solve their problems.
Ultimately, as residents come together to help make their community safer, they become more positive and enthusiastic about it. The trend grows and puts down roots.
Agencies and law enforcement are ready to help.
The work isn’t always easy, but when people in unsafe neighborhoods help, they’re helping themselves most of all.