During one of my most recent Citizens Advisory Panel meetings the topic of public safety came up amongst the group. This issue is a major concern of mine, and from the discussion that night, it is to a lot of our neighbors as well. I believe that safeguarding our citizenry is essential to preserving the type of quality of life that we want for ourselves and our families. After all, a safe community is one where business and families can thrive and grow. Therefore, protecting and maintaining this sense of security is a priority that we all must share.
Unfortunately, in our region we are seeing an increase in the number of violent incidents being played out in our neighborhoods. It is causing more and more of us to ask the simple question of, “Do I feel safe?”
I, like many, have found it particularly disturbing recently to read in the Burlington County Times, the sobering news that shootings have occurred with alarming frequency in several county towns this year. “As of Tuesday, [Dec. 27], at least 58 had been reported, according to newspaper reports. Many of the cases involved shots being fired into homes and vehicles without bloodshed, but over two dozen have resulted in injuries, including fatal ones.”
Having a safe town and a feeling of security where one lives is a quintessential component of democracy. If you do not feel safe, then our governmental system to some degree is failing. And, as a civilized society, we cannot tolerate this disregard for the law and the potential danger it imposes on each of us and our families.For that reason, I have recently put forward a proposal that would create a “Safe Streets Law Enforcement Grant Program Fund.” The purpose of this legislation is to provide funds to pay for one-time, nonrecurring law enforcement costs geared towards specific crime prevention initiatives.
Law enforcement communities all across our state are stretched thin by budget constraints and growing public safety concerns. The courageous men and women charged with safeguarding our communities are stretched thinner than ever before. While every community's needs are different, this program would allow law enforcement to seek additional funds to meet their unique needs. Specifically, funding under the program is geared towards purchasing new police equipment, increasing police training to meet new threats, enactment of new public safety initiatives, or assisting property taxpayers by offsetting law enforcement overtime costs.
The key aspect of this idea is that it allows law enforcement and local elected officials to tailor their grants towards what will have the biggest impact on the safety of its citizenry. The bill distributes the funding proportionately, according to the size of the community (using the most recent census data). For example, $150,000 would go to municipalities with populations of 80,000 residents or larger; $100,000 to municipalities with at least 40,000 (but less than 80,000); $75,000 to municipalities with at least 20,000 (but less than 40,000); $50,000 to municipalities with at least 10,000 but less than 20,000 and $25,000 to municipalities with less than 10,000 residents.
Only municipalities that are NOT patrolled by the New Jersey State Police on a full-time basis would be eligible. The total cost of this proposal is estimated at $23M or .06% of the current New Jersey state budget. A small price to pay for enhanced safety in my opinion. This proposal will provide a substantive boost to alleviating safety concerns for areas all across New Jersey, by providing the necessary resources for communities to customize their use of these funds.
However, grant programs like this alone will not keep us safe. Safety, of course, begins with each citizen. Everyone can make a personal effort to be more aware of what happening in their neighborhoods and take the initiative to look out for one another. There is no one class of people who should feel safer or another group that should constantly feel unsafe. But, in order to achieve that goal it takes the collective efforts of all of us to safeguard our communities. This proposal is just one piece of the puzzle to realizing this goal, but the biggest piece starts with each and every one of us taking back our communities from those who seek to undermine its safety. That’s my take. What’s yours?