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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

SAFE or unsafe

Lately much has been made in the local media and Trenton political circles of the city's new police initiative, which will put 22 brand-new officers out on the streets in high-crime areas in a very visible manner.

The plan is to utilize foot patrols and stepped-up presence to combat “illegal narcotic activity, illegal street gangs – and, at the same time, address ‘quality of life issues’,” according to a Trenton Police Department press release.

Former Police Director Joseph Santiago – ever fond of acronyms – has chosen to title these new police operations as Selective Area Field Enforcement, or SAFE, and has attached that title to stressing “foot patrols, road checks, and high visibility.”

“Our 22 new officers will be working every weekend, teaming with experienced officers to do road checks and check on ABC violations at the taverns,” said Mr. Santiago, in a statement. “We will use foot patrols in areas specified by the district commanders, because we know from five years’ experience in driving crime down that visibility is key.”

Despite all the brouhaha over the new program, its implementation casts doubt on the validity of the administration's public position that certain police districts must see drastically reduced staffing levels and useful police units must be disbanded, due to budget issues.

In fact, it makes it look like every move of late made by the city administration and Mr. Santiago is highly arbitrary and political.

Remember, right now the Trenton Police Department has cut police presence in the south and east police districts by nearly half. Precincts are closed during the late-night hours. Several different units have either been disbanded or taken off the streets, like the K-9, Vice, and mounted police.

Two of those units – the K-9 and the Vice – brought in thousands of dollars into the city’s coffers through seizures, more than covering their associated cost of maintenance.

The mounted group was disbanded but the city continues to pay for the four horses associated with the unit, despite being justified by police and city leadership through the citing of budget issues.

In announcing the SAFE program at a hyped-up media event, allegedly cash-strapped city police officials paid out innumerable hours of overtime, wasted hundreds of gallons of gasoline in getting cars to a Hamilton car wash for a cleaning, and made a vulnerable city more vulnerable by siphoning off police officers from the street.

All this, at a time of budget problems and drastic cutbacks?

The whole group of events has made it abundantly clear: the fiscal situation, the department’s recent organizational moves, and the new program and its announcement simply don’t add up.

So when city residents well-aware of a reduced police presence and plagued by crime problems hear of a new program designed to “bring crime down even further”, pardon them for being a little doubtful of the value of such a program.

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