PATERSON, NJ- With local businesses bustling around them three members of the Paterson City Council joined together for a press conference on Tuesday to outline their alternative to a proposal by Mayor Andre Sayegh to declare the area of Union Avenue between Redwood and Kearney Street as a “hot spot.”
Under the designation, currently in place in 11 other locations across Paterson, businesses would be forced to close by midnight and individuals loitering in those areas after hours would be subject to heavy fines. At a recent city council meeting Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale, joined by Police Chief Troy Oswald and Captain Patrick Murray, presented a written report which they said showed that areas in which the curfew has been implemented have seen a 79% drop in crime. Unwanted loitering, criminal mischief, and noise at the locations has plummeted, they declared.
“If businesses close down early, it hurts their revenue,” Councilman Michael Jackson said offering instead that he would like to see a dedicated officer in front of each building between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Under his plan the local businesses would cover the costs associated with hiring off-duty police officers at a rate of $50 an hour.
“Closing the restaurants will not solve all the issues. We need other resources to address quality of life issues. We want to stop anything like public consumption of alcohol, selling drugs, and breaking into cars.”
Council President Maritza Davila was also on hand to lend her support to Jackson’s proposal. “More officers will increase revenue,” she stated.“People won’t have to drive to Fairlawn to buy a gallon of milk.”
In addition to reducing crime, Davila believes, the plan would also address other quality of life issues such as littering and double parking.
Saying that he wasn’t opposed to the other “hot spot” designations already in place, and in fact recently supported the addition of the troubled corner of Main and Weiss Streets to the list, Jackson said that his interest is in getting community feedback before expanding the policy to other locations.
“We don’t want to be told what to do,” Jackson added referring to a shared assertion that the Administration could have engaged in more dialogue before bringing the matter up in a public forum.
“He (Sayegh) should have talked to business owners rather than going to the media,” Davila lamented.
Asked previously about Davila’s decision to pull the proposal from Wednesday’s council agenda Sayegh said that “this is not the type of action you put off.
“We are talking about people’s lives,” Sayegh continued before adding following the press conference that “protecting residents is my top priority.”
“We should be talking about law enforcement,” Councilman Shahin Khalique said standing alongside Jackson and Davila. “Four years ago we didn’t have this problem here.”
Suggesting that the “hot spot” designation on North 7th Street didn’t really alleviate the crime, but only caused it to “move to another location,” Khalique asked where those that are committing offenses will end up.
“Will the people move down Union Avenue to Dunkin’ Donuts? Will that have to be declared a hot spot?”
“I was born and raised in Paterson," Jose Munoz, owner of Boulevard Wine Spirit and Liquor located at 467 Union told those gathered. "I close at 2:30 a.m., I don’t think this area should be a hot spot, that’s not the problem,” he offered.
Showing a video taken on his cell phone that Munoz said depicted a large crowd congregated on Union Avenue at 4:30 a.m. on a recent weekend night, he was on hand to give his support to the proposal to increase police presence along the corridor.
Standing across the street while the press conference was happening were Carlos Bobadilla and Maria Melendez who, in addition to owning Plaza Restaurant for the past 34 years also live in an apartment above the establishment at 454 Union Avenue.
“We have to sleep here every night,” Bobadilla said before sharing that they “live in constant fear every weekend.”
Sharing their own tales of being awakened by large crowds that loiter and make noise every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, as well as hearing gunshots recently, Bobadilla said he chose not to attend the press conference because it was “not in support of making this area a hot spot.”
With an understanding that moving such policies forward can’t be done alone Jackson concluded by saying that he plans to “work with the administration and go through the Paterson Police Department,” to see the implementation of officers on Union Avenue, “within 2 or 3 weeks.”