Mayor Reed Gusciora unveils initiatives targeting youthful offenders overrunning the streets


TRENTON >> Regina Thompson-Jenkins’ teenage son died almost six years ago.

She still breaks down every time she talks about her only child, 19-year-old Tre Lane, who was shot dead on North Willow Street in 2012.

“These tears are real,” she said from behind the podium at a news conference Wednesday in the middle of Spring Street.

Thompson-Jenkins has been talking about gun violence in Trenton since before Mayor Reed Gusciora took office.

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She declared she had the new mayor’s “back” as she faulted past mayors for not doing more to address the problem tied to a slew of social ills.

“We had six years of terror, two regimes of doing nothing,” she said. “So, finally, we got someone who’s going to step up to this plate.”

For his part, Gusciora called on state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to do more to combat youth gun violence that has put Trenton in the top 10 nationally of cities with highest rates of teen shootings, according to a joint investigation by the Associated Press and USA Today.

Gusciora unveiled several proposals intended to cut down on youth gunplay that included ramped-up patrols in troubled parts of the city and a push to change the city’s curfew. They were met with skepticism from Trentonians who told leaders they’ve heard this before.

“No juvenile should be at either end of a gun,” Gusciora said.

“We will win this war,” acting police director Pedro Medina promised. “We will take this war to them. We’re not playing games anymore.”

Their comments came after last week’s wild shootout that injured one city teenager on the 100 block of Passaic Street, not far from where city leaders stood.

Officials said they have persons of interest in the case but haven’t made any arrests. And they would not disclose whether they believe teenagers were behind the crazy shootout in which more than two dozen shots were fired, injuring teenager Radazz Hearns, who survived being shot in the foot.

About eight hours after the shootout, 31-year-old Michael Monroe was gunned down on Hoffman Avenue, and a second 27-year-old man was injured.

AG spokesman Peter Aseltine responded by pointing to several recent investigations and a massive crackdown on so-called ghost guns undertaken by Grewal’s office. Those efforts included a major fugitive haul of 166 gang members and violent offenders, 41 in the capital city.

“Addressing violent crime is a top priority for Attorney General Grewal,” Aseltine said. “You certainly can expect to hear more from us on this front.”

The initiatives being touted by officials seemed to target teens like Hearns, who gained national attention when he survived being shot by the police officers who claimed he pointed a gun at them during a foot chase in 2015.

Hearns pleaded guilty in juvenile court to a gun charge under terms of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Among the proposals touted by Gusciora was instituting a city-wide 10 p.m. curfew, aimed at reducing a disturbing surge of violence being committed by juveniles, he said.

The current curfew is midnight.

“This is a matter of life or death,” Gusciora said. “And if you wanna do a passive response, we’ll end up having more teens losing their lives.”

Gusciora blamed criminals for taking advantage of impressionable teens who are often used as “couriers” to transport guns or are mere pawns in retaliation plots targeting rival crews.

“It seems that criminals know that juveniles don’t have the same type of penalties facing them as they themselves,” Gusciora said.

Mercer County prosecutor Angelo Onofri said he met with 15th district leaders about possible “legislative fixes” to address the youth gunplay but admitted details are being worked out.

Onofri felt statewide bail reform supposed to ensure non-violent offenders didn’t languish in jail because they couldn’t afford bail has been an “overall” positive for the Garden State but could be fine-tune to address complaints from critics who believe it resulted in the revolving-door release of certain accused offenders and repeat offenders.

Last year, in response to those concerns, the AG’s office instituted tougher guidelines for prosecutors targeting for detention those accused of serious gun crimes.

In turn, the state high court adopted changes that made it more likely accused gun-toters and repeat offenders would be detained.

Onofri said a similar proposal is being looked at that entails the same presumption of detention in gun cases involving juveniles.

“This is really violence for the sake of violence being committed,” he said.

Officials defended the proposed moves and didn’t feel they harshly targeted youth.

The state over the years has undertaken several efforts aimed at rehabilitating youthful offenders.

Last year, the state Supreme Court issued a decision that required judges to consider several factors before sending youthful offenders to prison for long stretches. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s longstanding belief that “children are different.”

“You use the term cracking down on juveniles, and I understand what you’re saying, but you know what I believe what the mayor’s trying to do, what the prosecutor’s trying to do, is protect those juveniles,” Medina said. “There’s a breakdown in family values. There’s a lack of communication between parents and their child. And not that we want to go out there and raise your child … but I truly believe, as government officials, we do have a responsibility if there are parents who are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we must attempt to protect that child that is getting that gun given to him, maybe by an adult.”

In addition, Medina said the police department planned to increase deployment in some of the city’s high-crime “hot spots.

However, he wouldn’t discuss their strategies or say how many additional officers would be deployed in those rough-and-tumble neighborhoods.

“The shootings that we’re having they’re not random shootings,” Medina said. “They’re targeted shootings. … I’m not going to get into too much of the detail because it’s for us, the police, to know what we’re gonna do. It’s for the criminals and the bad persons doing the shooting to find out what we’re going to do when they’re behind bars.”

The mayor and Medina faced stiff pushback from two women who stood with a crowd of residents gathered outside the presser.

One of them was Elease Carter, a proud Trentonian who relocated from Princeton.

As officials called on residents to step up and report crime, she reminded them over the fear Trentonians face in doing so.

She cited an example of someone she knew being targeted after they provided information to police in a murder.

“Let’s just keep it real,” she said. “You know for a fact a lot of things going on because ya’ll short[staffed].”

The mayor responded to hecklers by saying he agreed with them “100 percent.”

“We need more police on the streets,” he said. “We need more resources to them.”

Another woman shouted back, “You need more for them kids to do. They start as children. It ain’t about the ones we lost already. It’s about the ones that are coming up. … You taking money hiring more cops. Have somewhere for these kids to go. My daughter is 28 years old. She’s doing fine. You know why? Because she had somewhere to go. I’m 57. I’m doing fine. You know why? Because I had somewhere to go. I learned how to play ping-pong. I learned how to do tennis. I learned how to read. I learned how to write I learned how to do something because there was some place for me to go to let it out.”

Gusciora said he hoped to “triple” the city’s current recreation budget over his four years in office but he and Medina reminded residents it wouldn’t get done overnight.

“I understand the anger that members of the community have,” the police director said. “We hear you. Give us some time.”

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