This is the first in a series of columns about issues affecting residents of Elizabeth from Mayor. J. Christian Bollwage.

Last month’s discovery of bombs by the train station and the arrest of an Elizabeth resident really made people wonder how safe they are and how police and other law enforcement officers can safeguard the community. Also, since the individual who was arrested was an American, a “home grown terrorist,” we wonder how can we identify these people and how can we protect ourselves from them.

As the fourth largest municipality in New Jersey with a population of 124,969, the City is a large urban center, which encompasses 11.69 square miles. Home to The Mills - Jersey Gardens Mall, IKEA, AMC Loews Jersey Gardens Theater, Trinitas Regional Medical Center, Union County College, along with numerous hotels and companies, the response area is distinct and extensive. 

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One of our City’s biggest priorities is providing safety and security throughout our community and the Elizabeth Police have a crucial role to play in the protection of our residents and visitors. We have a force made up of qualified men and women who are working together to provide a strong foundation to protect communities from terrorism and other threats that our nation may be facing. 

Law Enforcement continues to implement new initiatives and expand existing neighborhood policing programs. Focusing on crime prevention and proactively, police officers and members of the community continue to partner and strengthen collaborative relationships in order to address concerns together. 

Community Block Watch meetings, which are held throughout the City’s Wards, have further demonstrated the effectiveness of holistic approaches to safeguarding neighborhoods.  Resident interaction, communication and feedback are enhanced and encouraged through these forums, where officers are present to answer questions as well as discuss issues that may arise within an area. 

Coordination is fundamental to a successful response to any critical incident, whether manmade or natural and the City of Elizabeth has a very powerful Emergency Response Team. Over the years, we have sought to address the causes and reduce the fear of crime in communities through the creation of effective partnerships with the community, training in problem-solving strategies or tactics. Like traditional crime, addressing terrorism is a responsibility shared among federal, state, and local governments.  Most recently, it hit very close to home when five pipe bombs were discovered in Elizabeth by two residents. Thanks to their quick actions and the response of the Elizabeth Police Department, County, FBI and the Linden Police Department, Ahmad Khan Rahami was apprehended and taken into custody in less than a day.

The big question that was asked is: how can we identify these people, who are known as homegrown terrorists? We ask for the cooperation of friends, family and neighbors to be on the lookout for things. 

Most recently, many residents are hearing the phrase: “If you see something, say something,” and some often wonder what exactly they would be looking for? This should focus on suspicious behavior, including but not limited to:

  • Unusual items or situations such as a vehicle that is parked in an of location, an unattended package/luggage/bag, a garage door/door/window that is open but usually closed or any other out of the ordinary situation such as that.
  • Someone who may be requesting too much information or is paying an unusual amount of attention to facilities or businesses. For example, someone questioning hours of a building, its purpose or daily operations, security measures, etc. Someone who is loitering or a repeated visitor in a short amount of time. Same thing would go for a residence, if someone asks too much information about your whereabouts, time you arrive/leave home, whether you live alone, etc.
  • Some of these activities could be innocent—it's up to law enforcement to determine whether the behavior warrants investigation. The activities above are not all-inclusive, but have been compiled based on studies of pre-operational aspects of both successful and thwarted terrorist events over several years.

Public safety is everyone's responsibility. If you see suspicious activity, report it to the Elizabeth Police Department or a person of authority.

Describe specifically what you observed, including: 

  • Who or what you saw;
  • When you saw it;
  • Where it occurred; and
  • Why it is suspicious to you

Our men and women will continue to help ensure our neighborhoods are crime-free and will exemplify nothing less than excellence and professional conduct that the residents of this city expect and deserve.

The City of Elizabeth uses numerous social media outlets to keep our residents updated and informed. Residents can also provide feedback, inquiries, concerns or questions to us, making it easier to connect with everyone. 

Please make sure you are following one of the pages below for the most updated information:

City of Elizabeth website: www.elizabethnj.org

City of Elizabeth Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cityofelizabethnjcityhall

City of Elizabeth Twitter: www.twitter.com/cityofelizabeth

City of Elizabeth Instagram: www.instagram.com/cityofelizabeth/ 

Mayor Bollwage’s Facebook: www.facebook.com/MayorBollwage/

Mayor Bollwage’s Twitter: www.twitter.com/MayorBollwage

The City of Elizabeth also has a messaging alert service that help residents access important and valuable community information when and where they need it simply by signing up. As a resident, there are several simple ways to register to receive COE Alerts: 

Use this link, which directs you to the form to fill out 

Text your ZIP CODE to 888777 from your mobile phone, or 

Speak with someone in the Public Information Bureau at 908-820-4124, who can assist you with sign up.

We also ask that you let your neighbors or friends in the community know about COE Alerts and encourage them to register. We believe this service will allow us to keep you informed in the most convenient, reliable way possible.