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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Let's go for the knockout blow

The West Ward of Trenton was the scene of an open-air gang shootout Tuesday, complete with crashing getaway vehicles and police officers unloading semiautomatics into fleeing vehicles.

When the dust settled, several individuals were arrested, several high-powered weapons were confiscated, and an investigation into the trigger-happy officer was launched.

The Trenton Police Department has responded with the usual Santiago-era treatment, consisting of a few nights of heightened police presence, probably some high-powered searchlights, while all of the hood rats and ghetto-dwellers that initiated the gang warfare in the first place scamper elsewhere in the city.

Police Director Joseph Santiago couldn't even make a physical appearance, but instead released a cliche police statement that has probably been given out in a slightly different form many times over by the director.

"This type of senseless violence will be met with an overwhelming amount of police presence," said Mr. Santiago, in a poorly-written press release.

This seems to be more of the same business-as-usual attitude that is frequently displayed by both Mr. Santiago and his boss, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

It is likely they were both out of the city at the time of the street battle, with Mayor Palmer probably up in Hunterdon County at his primary residence and Mr. Santiago at home in Stirling, out on two days of sick leave.

For one of those two sick days, Mr. Santiago took it upon himself to venture to Plainfield, where he told the city's leadership about the merits of switching from a Police Chief-led department to one led by a civilian Police Director.

He probably didn't tell those from Plainfield about how he has divided the Trenton Police Department, politicized it, and distracted officers and the community with controversy after controversy.

It is equally likely that he probably didn't describe how he has diminished the department's efficiency significantly because of personal vendettas, through the ouster of older, experienced officers or their relegation to meaningless midnight-shift desk jobs where their superior leadership skills languish.

Mr. Santiago probably didn't tell them about he works as an absentee police director serving an absentee mayor, living outside of the law and outside of Trenton, creating a situation where the most dire public safety events in Trenton are usually handled by his lesser and less-capable underlings.

Luckily for the City of Trenton, all of that might come to an end tomorrow, when Judge Linda Feinberg rules on twin lawsuits brought against Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer, with one designed to remove Mr. Santiago outright.

The other asks for his de facto removal, in that it calls on him to immediately do something that Mr. Santiago has refused to do, and that is move into the city he serves.

A ruling favoring that position will likely mean his immediate resignation.

The point here is not to celebrate the probable demise of one person who has brought nothing but problems to the City of Trenton. The point is that Mr. Santiago - a man cast out of several law enforcement agencies for shady dealings - should have never been brought to Trenton, but he was and the city has been forced to deal with the cost, in terms of both cost and moral, for five years.

The responsibility for that - and many of the other ills that plague this city - sits on the shoulders of only one man, and that person is Mayor Palmer.

This is a mayor whose arrogance and vindictiveness - never more evident than in the hackneyed defense assembled by his counsel in the Santiago battle - has resulted in a political position that has been weakened considerably, especially of late.

The mayor has recently been dealt several important policy defeats, he is faced by an increasingly adversarial City Council, and he has proved to his own party that he cannot get out significant numbers of votes for favored Democratic candidates.

A recall could be in order.

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