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Residents, Officials, Seek Answers To Stop Violence

More than 150 residents met at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens June 15 for a town meeting spurred by a recent spate of violence in the 4th Ward.


Township police have made headway in investigations into 18 shooting incidents that occurred in the 4th Ward over the Spring, a group of about 150 residents was told June 15.

Township Chief of Police Lawrence Roberts told the group assembled at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens that “numerous” arrests have been made in connection with those incidents, and that three guns – including an assault weapon – have been seized.

“You have my word that we will keep up the pro-active approach, we will keep working with the community to make sure these types of incidents don’t happen again,” he told the crowd.

The occasion was a town meeting to address the recent violence in the area, sponsored by the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries, senior pastor at FBCLG, Deputy Mayor Carl Wright (D-Ward 4) and township organizations.

Roberts said following the incidents, plainclothes officers were deployed to the 4th Ward, “and they target the area where the shootings are happening, and they try to get in and they try to get the people who are responsible.”

“We have not had a shooting since May 28,” he said. “We’re hoping that keeps up.”

Roberts said there were 18 shooting incidents in the area between April and the end of May, some of which were “shots fired” calls. Five people were wounded in the incidents, the last of which happened over the Memorial Day weekend.

Roberts said that the police department is doing what it can, but that it needs the help of residents.

“We need your help,” he said. “You are our eyes and ears.”

“I want to keep the relationship and the dialogue going,” he said. “We want to raise the bar, its high now, but we want to do better. We want to make sure we’re giving service to every citizen. That’s what’s most important, and that’s what makes the township safe.”

The residents also heard from FTPD Sgt. Sean Hebbon, who was recently placed in charge of the department’s year-old neighborhood police team.

The team, he said, is working with businesses along Hamilton Street, “trying to build a team out there, trying to get that whole area of town to work as a united effort. That’s what’s going to make the area flourish and make everyone comfortable.”

“A shooting shouldn’t be something that shakes people up, it should be something that pushes us into action,” he said.

Hebbon said one key to creating a safer environment is for people to get to know their neighbors.

“Neighborhood by neighborhood, we need to start speaking to each other,” he said. “If you don’t know who you’re living next to, it’s hard to secure your neighborhood. We want to get the neighbors in the communities to meet each other.”

The Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries praised the efforts of Police Chief Lawrence Roberts in responding to and being sensitive to the needs of the community.

Soaries said that the church has had to increase its security. The church’s security coordinator, Lanuel Ferguson, said that FTPD has increased patrols in the area, and that he is bringing in more former police officers to help with church security.

“What we’ve done is establish distinct protocols when it cones to security,” he said. “We have training for our people in our security division, over half are retired police officers. We have over 300 years of experience together.”

The church’s security plan includes working with FTPD, as well as the New Jersey State Police, and county prosecutor’s offices, he said.

“Franklin is our lead agency,” he said. “We communicate with one another. We need you to start communicating.”

“We’re looking at other facets to enhance our security,” Ferguson said. “We’re bringing other people on with law enforcement experience, corrections experience. We will be working extensively with our new polices. ”

“There is a comm0n goal, and that common goal is the safety of our community and our church,” he said.

There was also a portion of time set aside for questions from the audience. Most of the questions came from residents of the Parkside senior citizen complex, all of whom said more security is needed.

“The seniors need security,” Parkside resident Delores Small said. “A camera does not have legs and arms and cannot be present at the time of the incident. There are incidents that a couple of us here from Parkside have had, in our building, which is not secure and not safe, we need security. We need a body.”

“If it involves a grant or whatever, just grant us some security,” she said.

Other residents, such as Gladys Brown, complained about noise issues. She said that people who live across from her home regularly play loud music out of their cars.

“I don’t mind young people enjoying themselves, but I think that after a certain hour, I have a right to be able to lay in my bed and relax,” she said.

Deputy Chief Richard Grammar told her that the noise ordinance is enforced, and that there are different regulations for music played out of a car. He told her she should call police the next time it happens.

“This definitely isn’t the end,” Roberts said at the end of the meeting. “We can only get better if we hear what your concerns are, and every concern is important, whether it’s picking up garbage, shootings, noise. We  want to keep this ongoing.”

“Call the police,” he said. “That’s why we get paid. If you don’t call us, we don’t know about it.”

Afterword, Soaries said he was surprised at the number of people who showed up for the meeting.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “There were more people than I expected. And I think both sides heard things they needed to hear.”

Still, Wright said, more people could have shown up.

“Concerned citizens came out, I wish we had more,” he said. “Another three weeks or so, we’ll have another one, and we’ll get another section of people to come out. I need to have more because of more thoughts that I have.”

Wright said that he does not want to have security cameras installed in teh ward, but, he said, “if we continue to have the violence, we’re going to have to put them there.”

Also attending the meeting were state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17), Mayor Phil Kramer, Township Councilmen James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) and Charles Onyejiaka (D-Ward 3), and Township Councilwomen Roz Sherman (D-Ward 2), Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) and Shanel Robinson (D-At Large).

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Copyright 2017 The Franklin Reporter & Advocate
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