By Angela Delli Santi
The Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. — Reacting to escalating gun and gang violence across New Jersey, Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Tuesday unveiled an anti-crime strategy that he said would reduce the state's rising murder rate and allow people to feel safer in their communities.
Corzine was flanked by the state's top law enforcement officials, Attorney General Anne Milgram and state police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes, as he detailed the law enforcement portion of the three-part plan.
The other elements are prevention, which he is scheduled to talk about on Wednesday in Newark, and re-entry for ex-convicts, which he is to discuss on Thursday in Camden.
"Our purpose in proposing this series of initiatives is pretty simple: to better protect New Jersey's citizens," Corzine said, speaking on the Statehouse steps. "You will measure our success, or lack thereof, by reductions in the rates of crime or recidivism for those who have committed crimes over a period of time."
Although New Jersey is safer overall than it was a decade ago, the number of homicides and gun-related crimes has risen, an escalation law enforcement officials attribute to the increasing presence of street gangs.
In the latest state police report on gangs, due out within a week, 43 percent of New Jersey communities and all but one county reported evidence of gang activity.
"The state has to get a handle on gang violence," Milgram said, explaining why the time is right to launch the new offensive. "To let the gang and gun violence go unchecked is a huge mistake."
The law enforcement part of the initiative, which Corzine discussed Tuesday, involves the following steps:
— Introducing modern data collection and analysis-based policing to departments that don't already have such methods.
— Having communities assess their gang problem and target gangs and gun violence accordingly.
— Stepping up efforts to stem illegal gun traffic and vigorously investigate all shootings. Investigating officers will be required to report shootings to the state within eight hours.
— Buttressing witness protection programs.
— Involving community members in developing law enforcement and anti-violence strategies.
People living in the cities likely will see little difference in their daily lives during the initiative's initial stages, Milgram acknowledged, beyond the installation of video surveillance cameras in some communities. Corzine said he expects the new strategy would begin paying dividends _ in the form of lower crime rates _ in two years.
The governor said he'll move existing money around to pay for the initiative, initially dedicating up to $10 million for enforcement and $35 million for prevention.
Other actions will be up to the Legislature, such as toughening prison sentences for people who are gang members or are convicted of carrying an illegal gun.
"It is shocking to me when I look at the state's laws right now that gun possession is a third-degree crime with a presumption of nonincarceration," Milgram said. "That means when you have somebody on the street in New Jersey carrying an illegal gun, the likelihood that they're going to go to jail is almost zero."
The Legislature also may be asked to revise the drug-free school zones law, which increases penalties for people convicted of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. Both Corzine and Milgram called the law largely ineffective at reducing drug crimes near schools and said it has instead crowded jails with nonviolent offenders, sometimes crowding out more violent criminals.
A task force recommendation on the law is due to the governor in December.
Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer applauded the governor's comprehensive approach.
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"You can't lock up the gun and gang and illegal drug problem. There are not enough facilities in the world to do that. We need a comprehensive plan that involves re-entry, that involves prevention," Palmer said.