East Orange’s mayor-elect gets an earful about public safety

Photo by Chris Sykes
East Orange Mayor-elect Ted Green, second from right, stands with former East Orange Councilwoman and Essex County Freeholder Carol Clark, second from left, and two of his constituents on Thursday, Dec. 14, during his transition team’s public safety meeting in the Langston Hughes School auditorium.EAST ORANGE, NJ — During a press conference at the 3rd Ward Community Information Center on Rhode Island Avenue on Thursday, Nov. 9, East Orange Mayor-elect Ted Green said public safety would be a top priority for his administration.

True to his word, Green and his transition team’s Public Safety Team hosted a public safety meeting in the Langston Hughes Elementary School Auditorium on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

“Let me just thank all of you for coming out this evening and sharing with our transitional Public Safety Team but, first of all, I want to thank all of these men and women who have been working very hard over the last two or three months. We have individuals with experience, not only in law enforcement, but other areas, too, from former police officers to current police officers, to current and retired firefighters, to members of the Essex County Sheriff’s Department to the Prosecutor’s Office and public safety directors, not to mention our only female, Amanda Koontz, who sits on our transitional team and with Billy Oliver and Ron Salahuddin,” said Green on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

“As we walked and knocked on doors during this election, one of the things that we committed to that’s essential to really make East Orange great again is public safety and, when it comes to public safety, we think of you first.”

Green’s transition team Chairwoman Tracy Munford orchestrated the meeting and laid out the ground rules before turning it over to Oliver, who introduced the members of the public safety team to the audience, including Irvington Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers and Orange Police Deputy Director John Brown. Director Todd Warren, also a member of transition team, was absent.

“We have three pieces of our goal tonight: to listen to your concerns, to identify potential solutions and any ideas that you have,” said Munford on Tuesday, Dec. 12. “Whatever it is that you share with us tonight will really inform not only the mayor-elect, but certainly the transition team on public safety, who is here with us tonight. It will inform them, so that they can include some of your ideas and your thoughts into their final report, which will become a formal document to the mayor-elect. Every opinion matters.”

With that in mind, Oliver said “the mic is open” and officially began the meeting. Most of the issues raised had to do with the East Orange Police Division.

Former city Senior Services Director Catherine Willis voiced concerns about parking, street signs, traffic signs and traffic signals.

“I have two concerns and suggested solutions: Eppirt Street between Rhode Island Avenue and Elmwood Avenue is a disaster. It’s an accident waiting to happen, a fire hazard,” said Willis on Tuesday, Dec. 12. “Two-side parking is allowed. Children are getting out of the cars, darting between the cars to get to this school that we’re in right now. If a fire was to happen to any of the residences along there, a fire truck would not be able to access that area. It needs one-side parking or either alternate street parking.”

Willis also had issues with the traffic signs posted in her area of the 3rd Ward.

“I’m also concerned about how one decides where stop signs go. Recently, a stop sign was installed at the corner of Oak Street and Tremont Avenue, which makes that a four-way stop. Totally unnecessary,” said Willis. “However, you can come out of Halsted Street at Tremont Avenue and there’s nothing to slow you down or stop you. Usually, when they put up a stop sign, they’ve done some kind of traffic study and, obviously, they’ve failed to do that when they erected that stop sign on Oak and Tremont. And I would strongly suggest that traffic studies be done and that someone take a look at Oak Street and Tremont.”

Aside from Willis’ traffic safety concerns, the statements from Oberon Edwards of Collins Avenue; Emily Nichols-Mitchell of Woodland Avenue; the Rev. Dana Owens of Messiah Baptist Church; Mama Sweets restaurant owner Jason Riddick; and Prince Hall freemason Odell Roland stood out most at the meeting.

“We had a rash of burglaries and break-ins in that vicinity,” said Edwards on Tuesday, Dec. 12. “To chronicle those: 20 Collins Ave., that was burglarized; we have 36 Fernwood Road, that was burglarized recently. We have 156 Woodland. We had a car stolen from my neighbor’s driveway. We have 167 Woodland Ave. — in that case, it was a home invasion — which a resident was beaten and had to be hospitalized for over a week. We have 193 Woodland Ave., in which the occupant was home at night; the home was broken into while she was sleeping and they burglarized the home, then they stole the car out of the garage. We also have 174 Woodland and that’s another place where the house was burglarized and the car was stolen from the driveway. Apparently, the news is out that this is a place for robbers to go shopping. And we would like to have a high-security focus on that area.”

Edwards discussed attempts to meet with the East Orange Police Department and the Mayor’s Office that didn’t result in any action to alleviate his neighborhood safety concerns. He also said he would like to have security and surveillance cameras installed at strategic locations throughout the area.

“I pay way too much taxes for that to be an issue. My taxes are over $17,000 a year and I live in East Orange. I don’t have kids, they don’t go to the public schools, they’re not using the public resources,” said Edwards. “We’d just like to have someone from the police department or the Public Safety Department that we can (speak) with, so that we can find a solution to this. We need to have some solutions and there’s someone (to whom) I need to be able to speak to address that.”

Owens made remarks about recent shootings and the likelihood of more gun-related incidents in the near future; Roland’s statements were about the dangers of East Orange police officers being overworked due to working mandatory, back-to-back 16-hour shifts.

“I’m here tonight because of two reasons: Two Thursdays ago, there was a shooting on the corner of Oak Street and Linden. The time that the shooting occurred, took place during one of our big choir rehearsals. And there’s quite a few our members who are elderly that were at that rehearsal. Of course, rehearsal was interrupted, members are asked to move swiftly to their cars and exit as quickly as possible, because the entire block had become a crime scene. That’s troublesome for me, because I don’t want our members, whether young or older, to be fearful of coming out,” said Owens on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

“I’ve been there for 13 years and this is not the first incident that I’ve had, but it’s the second within the last four months. There was a shooting that took place late July early August, but it was around 11 to 12 … at night, so there was no one at the church. But with this incident happening in the last two weeks, I’m just concerned about the police activity now.”

Owens said there has been an increased police presence in the area around his church since the second shooting, but is still concerned, wondering “how long will this last?”

Riddick spoke about a break-in at his restaurant Saturday, Sept. 30, and the East Orange Police Department’s failure to apprehend the suspect, even though his fingerprints were discovered at the scene of the crime.

When it comes to cops apprehending suspect, Riddick said, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s customer service all the way around” and “I want to have that service.”

Riddick admitted he did get some help from police Chief Joyce Bindi and another East Orange police officer, but said the fact the cops haven’t caught the suspect in three months is unacceptable and needs to change if Green is going to keep his promise to make East Orange safer.

Former East Orange Councilwoman and Essex County Freeholder Carol Clark was also in the audience at Langston Hughes Elementary School and said it was a good thing Green held the meeting, but now everyone in East Orange has to wait and see how he and his administration respond, once they are officially in office.

“Actually, I think it’s good to have these listening tours and public speak-outs, if you will, prior to actually taking office. You know, at least you think you know many of the concerns, but hearing from citizens, sometimes, you’re going to hear some other things that you didn’t know and that’s really key,” said Clark on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

“If you’re going to be an effective public servant and an effective elected official, you’re going to have to learn how to listen to what people have to say, absorb that information and then the key is respond to it. So this is the first phase of it. The listening, the absorbing, the gathering of information that was perhaps not known. Some of it may have not been known, but some of it might be new information. And now it’s incumbent on the administration to respond … and then that’s how people will be able to gauge how things are going. You’ll have your traditional 100 days and you’ll be able to see.”