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On Target: Paterson Police Come Out on Top in Making Shooting Arrests

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PATERSON, NJ – Paterson police officers have been far more successful in making arrests in non-fatal shootings than their counterparts were in other New Jersey cities, according to a story on nj.com.

Over the past four years, about 25 percent of the non-fatal shootings in New Jersey high-crime cities get solved, the story said. But the Paterson police department has been successful in solving about 50 percent of its non-fatal shootings during that same time period, according to statistics in the story.

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“I think that’s because we have a special unit that focuses on the non-fatal shootings,’’ said the Rev. John Algera, an anti-crime activist and pastor of Madison Avenue Christian Reformed Church. “For every shooting that takes place, you have the same group of detectives handing them. It enables them to focus on the problem.’’

That group of detectives – the Cease-Fire unit – was one of many formed in New Jersey cities in 2006 through grants provided by the federal government. But when the federal money ran out several years ago, some cities disbanded their Cease-Fire units. Paterson public safety officials have kept their intact.

“I believe we’re one of the last ones left,’’ said Lt. Patrick Murray, head of Paterson’s Cease-Fire unit.

The theory behind Cease-Fire is that by arresting suspects in non-fatal shootings police are preventing those criminals from killing someone sometime in the future. “When an individual points a firearm at another individual, the intent is to kill,’’ said Murray.

In some cities, investigations of non-fatal shootings don’t always get the same attention as those that results in deaths. “We investigate them with the vigor of a homicide,’’ Murray said.

The nj.com story said Paterson made arrests in 56 percent of its non-fatal shootings in 2008, 49 percent in 2009, 55 percent in 2010 and 40 percent in 2011. None of the other cities surveyed in the story – Atlantic City, Camden, Elizabeth, Irvington, Jersey City, Newark, Orange and Plainfield – reached 50 percent arrests in any of the four years. All eight of the others had years in which the percentage of arrests was less than 20, according to the story.

Paterson experienced a spike in non-fatal shootings in 2011 that has continued into 2012, according to statistics provided to PatersonPress.com through an Open Public Records Act request earlier this year.

The number of non-fatal shootings in Paterson jumped from 42 in 2010 to 82 in 2011 and the number of people wounded in those incidents climbed from 48 to 93. Preliminary statistics indicate those numbers continued to increase in 2012.

“One of our biggest obstacles is getting cooperation from victims and witnesses,’’ said Murray.

The Rev. Algera is a member of the city’s civilian Cease-Fire team. Several years ago, that group had outreach workers who would talk to witnesses and victims to try to convince them to cooperate with the police. Civilian Cease-Fire members also used to canvass neighborhoods after shootings to try to help authorities find people who saw what happened, said Algera.

With the loss of its outreach workers, the civilian Cease-Fire team has done less work on specific shootings and instead focused its efforts on community anti-violence initiatives like peace marches and public information campaigns.

Algera credited Murray and his staff with working hard to build ties with neighborhood residents. “They really reach out to the community,’’ Algera said. “I have seen them value the community’s involvement like no other police experience I’ve had.’’’

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