TRENTON – Democratic lawmakers on the Assembly Budget Committee asked state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa today about the big increase in crime in urban communities —Trenton, Newark, Camden and Paterson, for example – and what the department is doing to address it.
“We are continuing on the urban side of things … to best allocate State Police resources to supplement local law enforcement,” Chiesa said.
Chiesa said the State Police has provided information from its Regional Operations Intelligence Center in Ewing, and said that there is regular communication among departments.
When Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, (D-29), of Newark, asked if he believed there were enough police officers to create “acceptable living conditions” in the inner cities, the attorney general said he has not performed any kind of independent analysis on the individual municipalities’ crime rates.
“The best thing I can do is talk about the collaborations we are having,” he said, such as the department’s assistance in helping local police in gang-related cases.
Chiesa said he will be as “scrupulous” as he can to try to keep the use – and cost – of outside counsel at a minimum. The budget calls for $21 million to use lawyers who are not part of the staff, down from $26 million from prior years.
“We are going to do as much stuff in house,” he said. “I’m going to use the talent I have, which is extraordinary.”
The Law and Safety Department has 700 lawyers.
He added, though, there are times when outside counsel must be used to avoid conflicts of interest or to perform specialized work.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer, (D-36) of Passaic, asked if there was any discussion about charging the mostly rural communities who rely on State Police as their primary force. There is about $80 million budgeted for this purpose.
Chiesa said he hasn’t.
He said it may be something to look into, pointing out that his legislative district, among others, “are not beneficiaries of these funds.”
But Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, (D-35), of Paterson, said more needs to be done to help municipalities that saw their crime rates skyrocket in the wake of last year’s budget cuts that forced them to cut their police forces.
His own town, Paterson, is among them.
“We cannot continue to set up our communities for failure with violence,” Wimberly said in a statement. “This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of people and lives. Budgets are about dollars and cents, but we need to look at the human side, too.”