Turner: Citizen Safety Paramount In Crime Fighting

The State Police report issued – just days ago – on New Jersey’s growing gang problem should send more than a wakeup call throughout Mercer County. We need action and we need it now.

I support Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer’s call this week for 50 more police officers, but I believe State Troopers should be assigned immediately to help patrol our capital city. It makes good sense to secure the assistance of the State Police while the Mayor implements his two-year plan that will require recruitment, training and funding.

In these tough economic times, troopers on patrol could crack down on street crime and show citizens how those extra 50 officers will be well worth the long-term investment. In time, the troopers would be phased out and the new police would be assigned to regular patrols.

Federal funds also should be sought to fight violence in the form of Homeland Security grants because our most significant threat comes from local street gangs – not al-Qaida.

The simple economic reality is that if we want to promote historic tourism in Trenton and market our hotels and restaurants, and attract new businesses and the middle class, people need to feel safe on the streets.

The proliferation of illegal guns must be stopped. That’s why my top legislative priority when the Legislature reconvenes will be enactment of a “Zero Tolerance for Guns” bill I am drafting to require full cash bail for those charged with possession of illegal firearms, particularly those used in the commission of crimes.

Before Governor Corzine unveiled his anti-crime initiative earlier this month, I met with Attorney General Anne Milgram and stressed the need for prevention, intervention and punishment when dealing with crime and gang issues. I was gratified that he included several of my key measures in his blue-print for safety.

General Milgram told me the enactment of my bill, S-643, requiring full cash bail for those charged with violent crimes and my “source-of-bail-money” law, S-2012, have proven effective in removing dangerous offenders from our streets and keeping them behind bars once they are apprehended.

After the Governor signed my “source of bail money” law, General Milgram told me she wanted more prosecutors to request the judicial hearings the new law authorized for serious crimes to ensure that bail money comes from legitimate sources – not from the proceeds of illicit gang activities.

Another law I got on the books this year now calls for mandatory prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to $150,000 for someone convicted of possessing so-called “community guns” which are passed around by gang members for designated acts of violence.

One proposal of mine, S-2470, will make it illegal to purchase ammunition without a gun permit. This measure will help resolve the problem described by West Windsor Police Chief Joe Pica who complained about gang-related purchases of ammunition at a popular sporting goods store on Route 1.

Once my gun permit bill gets enacted, Chief Pica will no longer have to lament that, “They can’t buy guns there, but nothing stops them from buying ammo.”

I’m also glad the Corzine anti-crime proposal backed another one of my bills, S-2017, to help protect the identity of crime victims and witnesses to crimes by forbidding lawyers from naming them in court proceedings.

As the Trenton community learned in gruesome detail recently, a young mother who witnessed a gang murder soon had her own life taken in her daughter’s presence – just to prevent her from testifying against the gang members later.

Sadly, too many gang members attach so little value to human life, that witnesses to their evil deeds become expendable. No legislation can eliminate gang violence, but some can help prevent it. My bill would ban both defense lawyers and prosecutors from identifying victims and witnesses in court documents prior to trial.

Another one of my bills in the Corzine package, S-1756/A-2667, would sharply increase penalties for those who recruit minors into street gangs through intimidation or actual violence. Those who seriously injure a gang recruit who is a minor could face a prison term of up to 20 years under this measure.

Law enforcement agencies, all branches of government, neighborhood associations and parents have to work together to achieve our long-range goals of safety in our neighborhoods, our schools and in our business sectors. The police can’t do it alone – they need the cooperation of the communities and they need neighbors to help neighbors be truly safe. #

Senator Turner represents the 15th Legislative District in Mercer County