JERSEY CITY, NJ - Just as the City has achieved many of its goals for bolstering the number of police officers on the streets and expanding the diversity of newly hired and newly promoted cops, local activists echoing the demands of a national movement wants the city to defund the department.

Although this call has reverberated in some communities in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in the custody of police in Minnesota, local officials say it is unlikely that the department will see a dramatic cut in funding in Jersey City.

“We are hearing from a few outspoken people,” said Councilman Richard Boggiano, a retired Jersey City police officer. “A vast majority of people haven’t been heard from. We have great cops in Jersey City and haven’t had any of the major incidents that have happened elsewhere. Even in other places, most cops are good. There are bad apples in those departments, and they should be fired. But most cops are doing their job, especially here in Jersey City.”

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Although the call to defund police departments sounds draconian, many activists believe too much money is being spent on enforcement and not enough on the social programs that would have a much more permanent effect on reducing crime.

While Mayor Steven Fulop has expressed support for residents who are protesting against the kind of police brutality, he’s added that cutting the $111 million police department budget would mean laying off new recruits at a time when the department has finally recruited new and diverse officers.

Even with the fully staffed police department, officers at times have had to be sent from relatively low crime areas such as Jersey City Heights to areas prone to violence and other crime. Boggiano, who represents a portion of the Heights, has been critical of these practices. Police themselves fear a cut back as proposed by activists would make the matter worse.

“Some of these activists are proposing that we give up patrol and only respond when we are called,” said one police captain. “They don’t understand the nature of deterrence, and why we need to have a uniform presence on the street.”

Councilman James Solomon said he would like to follow a model that has recently been proposed in Newark which cut the police budget and redirected those funds to community-based anti-violence efforts. Newark is looking to redirect just under 10 percent of the police budget to establish an office of violence and develop other anti-violence initiatives.

Pamela Johnson, executive director of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement in Jersey City, has been lobbying the city council to redirect municipal funds to help fund similar initiatives in Jersey City

She has called for a 25 percent cut in the police budget.

Council President Joyce Watterman, who also serves as a minister in Jersey City, hoped to increase funding for such programs, but is cautious about what people mean by “defunding the police.”

She said she would need to see the details before she could support such an effort.

Councilman Jermaine Robinson – who is also a business owner in Ward F – points out that most of the violence in Jersey City occurs in his area and that police are needed to protect residents.

Calls for defunding the department are really a plea for public officials to reexamine how tax dollars are spent, Councilman Rolando Lavarro said, and possibly use them more efficiently on behalf of communities of color.

Boggiano said defunding won’t happen.

“The people who will get hurt the most are those in neighborhoods that have the highest crime,” he said. 

“People have to stop attacking police. What happened with George Floyd was a disgrace. It should never have happened and the cop responsible should be punished. But that cop is not the majority of cops,” Boggiano said. “ What we need is more community policing, more cops walking beats, more cops involved in the community.” 

“In the past, cops developed good relationships with the community by being there and talking to the people who live and do business there. We need to go back to that. We are hearing the outcry from a very small portion of the community. The people who support cops – the silent majority – are not speaking out and we need to hear from them.”

“Jersey City is making progress in the fight against crime because of the commitment of our officers, to both enforcing the law and building positive relationships with the community,” Carmine Disbrow, President of the JCPOBA, the union that represents the rank and file police officers of the JCPD. “While cutting funding and pushing it towards social programs makes for good talking points, it is not good policy when it comes to public safety.”

“Besides,” he added, “why does it have to be either or? Why can’t we have a fully equipped police department and the progressive and far-reaching jobs training and social programs we’d all like to see in our community?”

Editor's Note: The Publisher of TAPinto Jersey City also serves as a consultant to the JCPOBA

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