The Murphy Administration continues to focus on reducing gun violence with the creation of a statewide task force to enhance gun violence investigations and prosecutions.
To implement the task force, Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck issued his first enforcement directive that creates a statewide gun violence intelligence sharing network in all of New Jersey’s 21 counties.
The taskforce comes at the same time Gov. Phil Murphy announced a pact with New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut to share crime gun data.
Federal, State, Local Program
The initiative is a joint effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, the state’s 21 County Prosecutors, New Jersey State Police (NJSP), and federal, state, and local law enforcement.
“Since becoming Acting Attorney General two months ago, I have met with dozens of law enforcement leaders across New Jersey who consistently stressed the need for greater coordination with county, state, and federal prosecutors to reduce gun violence,” said Bruck. “We all recognize that criminal prosecution alone will not end gun violence in New Jersey, but when prosecution is necessary, we must do so as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
“The task force we are launching demonstrates our commitment to working across all levels of government to keep the residents of New Jersey safe.”
Reducing Gun Violence
AG Directive 2021-10 establishes a statewide Gun Violence Reduction (GVR) Task Force to lead reactive and proactive investigations and prosecute violent crimes that impact the lives and safety of residents. It creates a statewide intelligence network that will coordinate with the task force to implement immediate information sharing across agencies.
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Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Rachael Honig promoted the task force as an extension of the Violent Crime Initiative model that it pioneered in New Jersey cities like Newark, Jersey City, and Camden to other municipalities statewide.
“Our experience has shown that close cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement partners is the most effective way to combat violent crime,” said Honig.
The GVR task force will be organized into three regional teams—North, Central, and South—and will consist of federal, state, and county prosecutors working together to identify cases for investigation and prosecution. The regional teams will be supported by NJSP troopers and will be physically based in the “Real-Time Crime Centers” that NJSP recently established in locations across the state.
“Our challenge is not just removing illegal firearms from our streets, but determining the source in order to prevent the senseless acts of violence that are often associated with these firearms,” said Col. Patrick J. Callahan, NJSP Superintendent. “With the creation of this task force, we will be able to address these problems through precision policing, intelligence gathering and gaining access to information across a wide range of resources.”
Each of New Jersey’s more than 500 state, county, and local law enforcement agencies are required by the directive to designate an individual to serve as their liaison to the GVR Task Force, and will be responsible for serving as a single point of contact within their agency for coordinating requests for information and investigative assistance to and from the GVR Task Force.
In addition, each of the 21 county prosecutors are required to identify an Assistant Prosecutor who is responsible for supporting the GVR Task Force for cases arising in their jurisdiction.
“Sharing information and intelligence by local, county, state, and federal agencies is key in effectively preventing and prosecuting the gun violence that disrupts communities across New Jersey,” added Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez, President of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey. “This newly formed Gun Violence Task Force and statewide gun violence intelligence sharing network will expedite and bolster the work of law enforcement agencies throughout New Jersey’s 21 counties.”
Gun Violence Redux
The GVR Task Force model is based on the premise that a majority of gun violence incidents can be traced to a small group of individuals concentrated in specific areas—but that investigations into gun violence can span the entire state. The directive theorized that a firearm trafficked into New Jersey through Salem County might wind up as the murder weapon in a Paterson homicide or a vehicle stolen in Ocean County might be used as the getaway car in a Trenton shooting.
“This is an opportunity to expand beyond traditional policing strategies to reduce gun-related crimes and homicides in our neighborhoods and communities,” said Chief John Zebrowski, President of New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. “The task-force represents a significant interdisciplinary commitment towards prevention and intervention of gun-related violence through an enhanced network of intelligence information sharing.”
Rise in Shootings
The task force is being formed to combat a murder rate in New Jersey that rose to 3.7 per 100,000 in 2020 from 3 per 100,000 residents in 2019—a 19% hike. New Jersey’s murder rate rose to the highest it has been since 2016, according to FBI data in the report. The national murder rate rose quicker, moving from 5.1 to 6.5 per 100,000 between 2019 and 2020, jumping to a level last seen in 1997.
“I think at the heart of it lies illegal crime, guns in the hands of violent recidivist offenders. And that weapon used in Newark, we’ve seen it used in Trenton, we’ve then seen it used in Atlantic City,” said Callahan the day the FBI released its annual report.
The moves come as the Murphy Administration has emphasized a three-pronged approach to tackling what they perceive as a public health crisis: addressing the root causes of violence; keeping guns away from those most likely to harm others; and taking swift action against those who break the law.
Working With Neighbors
Among the efforts include bringing criminal charges against those who illegally traffic untraceable “ghost guns” into New Jersey, increasing funding for community-based violence intervention programs though the FY2022 budget process and an August “Guns for Cash” events held in Atlantic City, East Orange, Newark, and two locations in Paterson yielded 941 firearms.
Additionally, Murphy signed a memorandum of understanding to share crime gun data in an effort to prevent gun violence and enhance public safety with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Oct. 7. The agreement allows law enforcement agencies from the four states to distribute the data across state lines in order to detect, deter, and investigate gun crime, as well as identify and apprehend straw purchasers, suspect dealers, firearms traffickers, and other criminals.
“By sharing vital gun crime information with New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, we are equipping our law enforcement agencies with the necessary resources and intel to analyze, track, and deter gun violence,” said Murphy.