PATERSON, NJ – For a split second, Rigo Rodriguez thought he had fought off a mugger Monday evening. The city councilman said he was walking near Clinton and E. Main streets at about 5:30 pm when someone came up from behind him and grabbed his gold chain. Rodriguez said he spun around and knocked the thief – a teenager – to the ground.
But Rodriguez didn’t realize there were two of them.
“The next thing I know, the gun was right in my face,’’ Rodriguez said. “I heard him click the 9 mm. He said, ‘I’ll kill you.’ I told him, ‘Here, take the chain.’’’
The councilman became the latest victim in a recent outbreak of gold-chain snatchings in the 1st Ward. There have been more than 10 in the past month. Most of the other incidents that police have reported did not involve guns. Rodriguez said the gun came out only when he fought back. “He was ready to shoot me,’’ the councilman said.
City Council President Anthony Davis said he was "sorry to hear that a councilman, or anyone, was robbed. That shouldn't happen.''
"From Day One, I've said we need aggressive policing, not abusive policing,'' Davis added. "People need to fear that if they do a crime, the officers will go after them.''
Over the past weekend, Davis said he received more than 10 calls from constituents complaining about quality of life isues. "These things start small and they get bigger,'' he said.
Police officials could not be reached for comment.
“We definitely need more police officers,’’ said Rodriguez about the ongoing chain-snatchings in the area. “We don’t have enough to do an operation like this.’’
Rodriguez said he was visiting a mechanic he knew when he walked down the block to get something to drink at a bodega. While inside, Rodriguez said, a store employee was talking about the rise in gold-chain robberies and urged the councilman to try to get something done about it. Moments later, Rodriguez himself was being robbed.
The councilman said he was troubled because the crime took place out in open. In fact, he said, about 10 people were nearby playing dice on the sidewalk. “They acted like it was nothing,’’ said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said he “conducted some research” and learned that the thieves are not taking the chains to pawn shops, but instead have a source on the street connected to drug dealers who has been buying them.
The councilman said he was not wearing the chain in conspicuous fashion. “It was under my shirt,’’ he said. “They must have really studied me good.’’
The chain, 18-karat gold, had been made in Colombia and featured a likeness of the Virgin Mary and a Colombian prayer, he said. Rodriguez said he had the chain since he was 17 and estimated that it was worth about $2,000.
Rodriguez said the fine for chain-snatching was only a $250 and he asserted that the penalty should be made tougher to discourage the crime. Rodriguez said his attackers were young and nervous and did not seem like hardened criminals.
As the thieves fled, Rodriguez said he pulled out his phone to call police. At that point, the councilman said, someone in the crowd of dice players called out to the suspects: “He’s got an iPhone, too.’’ But the thieves kept running.