The "TIDE-TAG" violence suppression strategy was launched as a pilot initiative last summer in Trenton, where it reduced shootings and murders by one-third, according to the Attorney General's Office.
“Hardly a day goes by in Essex County when we are not reminded of the tragic consequences of gun violence. Far too often minor disputes escalate into violent gun battles simply because of the availability of guns,” Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray said. “We are eager to partner with Attorney General Hoffman and our other law enforcement partners to do whatever we can to curb this epidemic which is taking far too many lives.”
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman committed $2.2 million in state funds, federal Department of Justice grants and criminal forfeiture funds to support the program.
The initiative began Wednesday with more state troopers and other officers deployed to suppress shootings in the most violent neighborhoods of Newark, while focusing efforts on arresting and aggressively prosecuting gang members, repeat offenders and drug dealers who carry guns in public.
The New Jersey State Police and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office are spearheading the efforts, in collaboration with the Newark Police Department.
“We are pleased to work in collaboration with our law enforcement partners and community stakeholders in an effort to rid our communities of gun violence," Newark Police Director Sheilah A. Coley said.
"Gun violence has exacted a toll of death and tragedy in the neighborhoods and streets of Newark, as it has done in so many other communities in New Jersey and across our nation. We must take swift action to eliminate gun violence and the pain and suffering it leaves in its wake. I urge our residents to unite with us in these efforts."
Trenton had experienced 29 murders before TIDE-TAG was launched in August, but only eight additional homicides occurred during the remainder of 2013, including a period between late August and mid-November when no gun homicides occurred, the Attorney General's Office said.
In the six months after TIDE-TAG was launched in Trenton, both the number of shooting incidents and the number of homicides decreased by approximately one-third compared to the six-month period leading up to the program’s launch, according to the Attorney General's Office.
Newark recorded 111 murders in 2013, the highest total for the city since 1990.
"How do you stop gun violence when it has reached the point that an innocent 13-year-old honors student, Zainee Hailey, is gunned down while simply taking out the trash on Christmas Day, along with two young men barely older than her? The answer is you do everything in your power—you marshal your forces and deploy them using a proven plan,” Hoffman said.
“We must break the culture of violence that says you carry a gun because your rival does, and you use that gun to settle any dispute based upon the same warped logic. We believe TIDE-TAG has saved lives in Trenton, and we’re determined to save lives in Newark.”
Hoffman outlined the strategy on Wednesday at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office with Prosecutor Murray, Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Newark Police Director Coley, Newark Police Chief Ivonne Roman and other officials, including Newark Mayor Luis Quintana.
"The reduction of shootings and homicides we’ve seen in Trenton proves the successful one-two punch of the TIDE/TAG program,” Fuentes said. "By deploying this approach to another city, we are sending a message that gun violence will not be tolerated in our state."
The Newark Targeted Integrated Deployment Effort (TIDE) is an intelligence-driven surge in law enforcement deployments, led by the State Police and Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, to suppress violent crime in identified “hot spots” in the city. The surge will focus on street-level drug and gun crimes, as well as aggressive warrant enforcement and parolee supervision. Partners will utilize shared intelligence and crime analysis from the State Police Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC).
Deployments will include both high-visibility patrols and covert operations. The primary goal is to stop shootings by reducing the number of offenders carrying firearms and by disrupting the open-air drug markets that are hotbeds for violence in Newark. At the same time, state partners will supplement quality-of-life initiatives already put in place by the Newark Police Department. The New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Division of Taxation will target liquor stores, bars and bodegas that are violating state laws and regulations and negatively impacting community safety.
The Targeted Anti-Gun (TAG) Initiative is an arrest and prosecution strategy already in place in Mercer County that now is being implemented in Essex County. It brings New Jersey’s tough gun laws to bear on certain offenders who carry guns in public. Under TAG, the Attorney General mandates a “zero tolerance” prosecution policy that effectively increases the sentence for “tagged” gun offenders to at least 3 ½ years in state prison without parole, up from the current norm of one year. The goal is to stop criminals from carrying guns, so street confrontations do not escalate spontaneously into shootings.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has charged 89 active TAG cases, of which 39 have been indicted. The office has taken one guilty plea to a charge of unlawful possession of a weapon, for which the defendant faces a seven-year prison sentence, including 3 ½ years of parole ineligibility.
TAG includes outreach to raise public awareness and warn criminals not to carry guns. The Attorney General’s Office will mount an ad campaign with ads in newspapers and on buses, bus shelters, rail platforms and billboards, asking the public for help in identifying offenders who carry guns in Newark. Residents are urged to call the Essex County Prosecutor’s confidential tipline: 877-TIPS-4-EC. A second ad campaign will directly warn criminals who carry guns about the lengthy prison terms they will face.
The TAG designation applies to any defendant charged with unlawful possession of a gun in public, including in a car, if any one of the following criteria is met: the defendant has a prior felony conviction; there is a substantial likelihood the defendant is involved in organized criminal activity such as a gang or drug set; the defendant has a pending indictable charge; the defendant possessed the gun while committing a drug offense; the defendant brandished or discharged the gun in public; the gun is stolen or has a defaced serial number; the defendant resisted arrest or attempted to flee from police.
Under the TAG program, the Attorney General has mandated that prosecutors will make no plea offer to a “tagged” gun offender that is less than a minimum 3 ½ years without parole. Through TAG, he is prohibiting the common practice of pleading out these cases for a reduced sentence of one year without parole.
Attorney General Hoffman has mandated that prosecutors seek to fast-track TAG cases. He has directed prosecutors to seek maximum bail for such offenders and bail source hearings. Lab tests on the guns will be expedited and the cases will be quickly indicted. If defendants do not accept the minimum plea offer of 3 ½ years without parole, prosecutors will seek speedy trials, and following trial convictions, will seek the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, including five years of parole ineligibility.
In addition, "tagged" defendants who meet several of the criteria, or with significant prior criminal histories, will be referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for review. If prosecuted federally, convicted felons in possession of a firearm face up to 10 years in prison under federal law and, depending on the manner in which a gun is used in a drug-trafficking offense or a crime of violence, may face an added consecutive term of from five to 25 years in prison. Parole does not exist in the federal system.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman commended the following agencies for participating in TIDE-TAG:
- New Jersey State Police,
- Essex County Prosecutor’s Office,
- Newark Police Department,
- Essex County Sheriff’s Office,
- New Jersey State Parole Board,
- Division of Criminal Justice,
- U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey,
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, New Jersey Division,
- U.S. Marshals Service, District of New Jersey,
- U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Newark Field Division,
- ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark,
- Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and
- Division of Taxation, Office of Criminal Investigation