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Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora looks on as Police Director Sheila Coley speaks at a press conference at City Hall Wednesday, July 29, 2020.

In the early evening hours of Friday, August 21, Vernetta McCray, an innocent woman, was murdered by individuals that shot twenty-three shots in an apparent drive-by. According to media reports, Ms. McCray was a state worker who had just returned home from her job when she was indiscriminately shot as she was on her front porch on her cellphone dealing with a client,

This horrific event stands out because this strong woman refused to be chased out of her neighborhood by the incessant violence that has befallen the city. This woman believed in Trenton and its potential. She refused to give up and move out of the city. She was the type of individual Trenton needs to build on. She cared about Trenton and she was killed by individuals who care about nothing.

In most instances, this violence involves individuals who have freely chosen to be a part of this lifestyle. As Councilman Blakely called them, “criminal savage shooters” who have no regard for life, especially their own.

When one of these individuals is murdered on the streets, the community silently understands that dying on the streets or landing in jail is the final outcome for many of these young men and women. It is a part of that life. Sadly, the acceptance by the community to allow these young men and women to fester and take over their neighborhoods, to then martyr them as victims, and to allow children to hold him in regard, will only continue this cycle.

I learned long ago that there are three conditions that must be met for criminal activity to take place. The first is the desire of the individual to commit a crime. No research has determined what drives people to want to commit crimes and hurt people, but as we see across this country, this desire is not relegated to one group or community. The second condition is the opportunity to commit a crime. We as law-abiding citizens have created these conditions by following the rules of the streets, that “snitches get stitches”, instead of caring for each other and being a part of the solution.

The final condition, which we all play a part, is the belief that they will get away with committing a crime. The failure by the police to enforce the law, to not have a coherent plan of action, and to not have a strong police-community relationship is part of the problem. You add pandering politicians, and community activists, who are anti-police and call the police criminals, in addition to an indulgent media who perpetuate the stereotype of racist police, have given real criminals the license and freedom to believe no one cares and that they will get away with whatever criminal act they want to commit.

Mayor Gusciora released a statement stating that he would meet with local, state, and federal partners for help with the violence that seems to be overwhelming the police director and the police department. In his statement, he actually called for state leadership to slow the early release of dangerous persons simply because of the COVID pandemic. Something I agree with but a request that I am sure will put him on the outs with prison reform advocates who seem to care more about criminals than about law-abiding individuals. In addition, he touts the Real-Time Crime Center that will be coming in the future to help predict violent behavior. While helpful in the future, solutions need to be found now and that $4.5 million dollars allocated for that Crime Center could have been put to better use by hiring more police, fixing the radio room, buying new vehicles, providing better training and arming police officers with less than lethal technology.

As a police officer, I bore witness to the city fall victim to this type of violence twice before. Both times involved poor decision making by the police director of the time, Director Joseph Santiago in 2005 (31 murders) and Director Ralph Rivera in 2013 (37 murders) who each eliminated pro-active policing units. These decisions created the vacuum that allowed the conditions for the violence and death to skyrocket. Similar to what we are seeing today.

As Trenton deals with the record-breaking pace of homicides and violence in the city, the community and the Trenton police officers continue to lose faith in the police director. Aside from establishing foot posts and stating that Trenton needs more officers, Director Coley has failed to provide any answers or at least a plan that the citizens can support.

I know the Trenton Police Department has the ability to deal with this violence. It has done so in the past as it overcame inadequate leadership before. And it can overcome inadequate leadership once again.

When is enough enough? When will those in power make the necessary decisions to truly deal with the violence and mayhem that seems to blanket Trenton? How many more innocent individuals must be sacrificed before ego, pride and politics are put aside and those in power say enough?

Because the People of Trenton have had enough and say NOW is the time!!

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