Public safety takes center stage in Orange election

ORANGE, NJ — Following the recent spate of shootings that left two people dead and three more suffering from gunshot wounds, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren and acting police Director John Wade announced Wednesday, April 20, “Operation Spring Cleaning,” a tactical public safety and quality-of-life initiative to proactively combat gun violence and street crime.

“We have launched a citywide tactical strategy to defend our streets and protect our quality of life,” said Warren on Wednesday, April 20.

The new strategy came after 17-year-old Davon Jones was fatally shot and three others were wounded on Taylor Street on Thursday, April 14, and Jordan Bryan, 23, was shot and killed on Cary Street on Monday, April 18.

According to Warren, “‘Operation Spring Cleaning’ is powered by Orange Police Department, together with technology, manpower and intelligence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Street Violent Crime Initiative, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, Essex County Sheriff’s Office and New Jersey Transit. As a part of this initiative, the full deployment of the Orange Police Department has been strategically positioned to conduct street patrols and checkpoints with the assistance of special officers.”

Warren said, “The ultimate goal of Operation Spring Cleaning is to blanket our streets with coverage and quell crime and disorder as we head into the warmer months.”

“Crime and gun violence impacts society in many ways, including medical costs, costs of the criminal justice system, security precautions such as metal detectors and reductions in the quality of life because of fear of gun violence,” Warren continued. “We ask and need the support of residents as we move to defend and protect our community.”

According to data collected by various national agencies, Warren said an average of 30,000 people in the United States die from gun violence each year. And of those deaths, half of them are people between the ages of 18 and 35 and a third of them are people younger than the age of 20.

“Homicide is also the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds and the primary cause of death among African-Americans of that age group,” said Warren on Saturday, April 23.

East Ward Councilman Kerry Coley, who is running for mayor against Warren and Janice Morrell in the nonpartisan municipal election on Tuesday, May 10, said that, as a former Orange police officer who retired in 2014, he believes his police background gives him unique insight into Orange’s public safety woes and how to solve them.

“It requires leadership from a 23-year veteran police officer who has lived, walked and driven the streets of Orange for his entire adult life,” said Coley on Wednesday, April 20. “Where has the mayor been? You don’t fight crime with catchy slogans like ‘Operation Spring Cleaning’ or the big press event he held to tout S.T.R.I.K.E. The mayor has no plan to combat crime and the last four years are proof of that.”

Coley said he’s “gone door to door in this community over the last several months” and “the question asked of me the most by Orange residents is: ‘What is your plan to reduce crime?’” He said the answer is simple.

“Let me be clear: Crime in Orange can be reduced and it can be reduced dramatically; South Orange has done it; East Orange has done it,” said Coley. “We can do it and it doesn’t require a law degree or a (master’s degree in business) to figure it out or to do it. It requires resolve and a plan. If elected your mayor, I will immediately redeploy department resources to put more than six police officers per shift on street patrol. I will more than double the number of street patrol officers per shift. I will immediately call for a civil service police test for the city, in order to fill, over a period of two years, the 30-plus patrol positions that Warren has refused to fill. I will seek federal and state community policing grants to offset some the cost of these hires and the additional manpower will result in reducing the over $3 million in overtime Warren has paid because of lack of manpower.”

Coley said, when it comes to tackling Orange’s public safety issues and the quality-of-life concerns they raise, the Warren administration has been lacking in both resolve and planning during the last four years. He also criticized Operation Spring Cleaning as “too little, too late.”

“This is the best Mayor Warren can do in the face of the tragic shooting deaths of two of Orange’s young men,” said Coley. “Unfortunately, for the families of the deceased, the deceased themselves and for the city of Orange, it is too little and way too late. Over the last four years, Orange’s violent crime rate has gone up 21 percent. It is the highest it has been in over a decade and it is more than twice the national average. The April 14 and 18 homicides bring the number of murders in Orange in 2015 and 2016 to a total of 7. Since Warren has been mayor, that number is 10.”

Morrell said those are indeed troubling statistics. She said it still seems as if Orange is “a city under siege” and she wondered whether or not that’s was “due to hiring unqualified family members and friends?”

“A plan of action is necessary now, based on the recent shootings and homicides,” said Morrell on Monday, April 18, before Warren announced Operation Spring Cleaning. “We need to respond as if this is an emergency. One life lost is one life too many. These are our children, our neighbors and our friends. The entire city of Orange is being affected.”

Morrell proposed aggressively seeking out and applying for grants to hire additional police officers as a possible solution to Orange’s public safety concerns. She said a plan should be reviewed and applied for “as quickly as possible, before this reaches epidemic proportions.”

“We need to ask our police officers for suggested solutions,” said Morrell. “In addition, external assistance is needed, due to our diminished number of police officers. We should be requesting said help from federal and state police departments and agencies to work with our public safety department to develop an immediate, short/long-range plans to address policing concerns.

“Not only are residents at risk but, with each passing day of understaffing, our officers’ risks increase. We need to address the needs of both our police and our community. Furthermore, we sorely need services including intervention and job readiness-training programs for at risk young adults. Also, a multifaceted approach to address systemic issues confronting the at-risk youth in our city.”