Orange mayor working with other towns to combat crime

ORANGE, NJ — For years, police departments have been saying “crime has no borders,” emphasizing that crime is no longer limited to known, fixed locations and the usual suspects.

Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss and his public safety director, Tracey Bowers, have taken that approach to combating crime to heart, with the help of Aide to the Mayor Joseph Santiago, himself the former Newark police director, former state trooper superintendent and former Irvington police director. The Irvington Police Department has taken an aggressive new approach to combating crime by pursuing offenders and criminals as they pass through Irvington, either coming into the township with the intent of committing a crime or going through it on their way to commit a crime elsewhere.

That means following leads and tips wherever they lead, including neighboring municipalities such as Hillside and Orange. And that is something Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, who works part-time as a prosecutor in the Irvington Municipal Court, agrees with, since he recently announced “Operation Spring Cleaning,” which aims to do for Orange that Vauss is doing for Irvington with the new S.E.R.T. team, and restructuring the Irvington Police and Fire departments into one new Public Safety Department, as East Orange and Newark have done.

On Wednesday, April 20, Warren and acting Police Director John Wade announced the Orange Police Department was launching Operation Spring Cleaning, in response to the recent spate of shootings, from April 14 to 18, that left two people dead and three more suffering from gunshot wounds. Warren said the operation is 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, six days after 17-year-old Davon Jones was fatally shot on Taylor Street on Thursday, April 14. Three others were wounded in that shooting, then Jordan Bryan, 23, was shot and killed on Cary Street on Monday, April 18.

“Operation Spring Cleaning is powered by the Orange Police Department together with technology, manpower and intelligence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 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.”

“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 added.

According to Vauss, it only makes sense for cities and towns with similar demographics to share best practices and effective police tactics.

“Most of the people who do stuff here don’t live here, so we’re going after them; all we have to do is contact the DEA or FBI or someone above us that can give us the authorization we need to go into other jurisdictions,” said Vauss on Tuesday, May 17.

According to Warren, in the wake of a recent fatal daytime shooting in Orange, “A few months ago, we ran up in a house in Orange. We followed the guy from Irvington to Orange and then went and locked him up. Then we went and got the money he stashed that was in a couch.”

Vauss said such tactics are exactly what he, Bowers and Santiago had in mind earlier this year when he unveiled the Irvington Public Safety Department Police Division’s new Special Enforcement Response Team at his annual State of the Township Address on Thursday, Jan. 28. He also used the address to announce the township’s new partnership with the FBI.

Vauss said he wanted to send a message to criminals and lawbreakers everywhere, and added that other municipalities with similar public safety issues, such as Orange, Hillside and Newark, could do the same.

That was never more evident, Vauss said, than on Thursday, May 5, when the Irvington Police Department and S.E.R.T. conducted “Operation May Day,” a joint law enforcement initiative that included “several crime fighting entities” from Irvington, Hillside, Newark, Maplewood, Essex County, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, federal Department of Homeland Security, State Police, Bloomfield, Perth Amboy and Woodbridge. He said the operation was “a major sting,” wherein the combined agencies undertook an investigation that resulted in the court issuing seven search warrants that were used to coordinate tactical deployments, beginning at 7 a.m. at premises located in Irvington, Hillside, Perth Amboy and Newark, including at a residence on Wyndmoor Avenue in Hillside.

“The searches resulted in the confiscation of $4,062 in cash, two vehicles, four handguns and several controlled dangerous substances, including crack cocaine, heroin, marijuana and prescription pills,” said Vauss at a press conference in Irvington on Thursday, May 5. “Eleven people were arrested in the sting, including several gang members and drug distributors.”

Unfortunately, 12 days later, the sounds of three gunshots and two automobiles screeching away from the front of the same house in Hillside broke the early morning still Tuesday, May 17, the same house where a Crip gang leader had been arrested and money and guns were confiscated, as well as a vehicle taken into police custody May 5.

“What is this, South Central L.A., where people do drive-bys now?” asked Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson on Tuesday, May 17. “Our police department has got to do better. And when it comes to other outside police departments and law enforcement agencies coming in and alerting us to the presence of a high-ranking Crip leader in our town, the Hillside Police Department’s intelligence system needs to do better.”

Garretson and acting Hillside Police Chief Richard Floyd were both on hand at the press conference in Irvington on Thursday, May 5, where Vauss and Bowers announced the results of their joint tactical deployment in Irvington, Hillside, Perth Amboy, and Newark.

Bowers said any witnesses should have reported the incident to local law enforcement officials.

“If you find a shell casing, you should call the local police department to report it,” said Bowers on Thursday, May 17. “Also, that investigation is not over. We are currently in the second phase of that case. It is still ongoing.”

Vauss agreed with Bowers that Operation May Day is ongoing and confided they are set to move into “Phase 2” of the multi-municipality and multi-jurisdictional operation.

“We’re the lead department in this operation,” said Vauss on Tuesday, May 17. “These guys were in Crescent Lane in the Irvington Housing Authority and they were trying to operate their business out of Crescent Lane, but we pushed them out of there. We’re going to be going into Phase 2 pretty soon.”

Vauss said the fact the house that Irvington Police Department and S.E.R.T. raided on Thursday, May 5, belonged to a single young woman whose father had died sometime last year was a part of the criminals’ known methods.

“They go and get these women in places like Hillside, Perth Amboy and the Housing Authority and they get with them and then they set up shop in their houses,” said Vauss. “No one’s taking the aggressive approach to combating these kinds of predators that we’re taking. We’re going after them.”

Bowers said Operation May Day showed that various municipal, county, state, and federal law enforcement departments can work together to protect and serve the public across geographic and jurisdictional boundaries.