County, feds partner in effort to stem rise in violent crime

Staff Writer

 Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni, center, announces a partnership with the office of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, left, on an initiative to crack down on gun-related and violent crimes in Monmouth County.  KENNY WALTER/STAFF Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni, center, announces a partnership with the office of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, left, on an initiative to crack down on gun-related and violent crimes in Monmouth County. KENNY WALTER/STAFF Law enforcement officials have announced a new initiative aimed at curbing gun-related and violent crimes by taking offenders off the streets and isolating them from family and gang connections.

Project Stop the Violence is a partnership between the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that would prosecute offenders under federal statutes, which carry longer sentences that could be served in out-of-state prisons.

“What we believe is, it’s not necessarily the time that gets the bad guys; it’s where you serve that time,” Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said at a Nov. 1 press conference. “We feel like, if you put them on an island, away from their drug-trafficking networks, away from their families, away from their gangs, they are going to shrivel up.

“The whole goal behind this, when cases are adopted federally, is complete removal of the violent offender from family and community.”

Gramiccioni said that Project Stop the Violence will lead to the county’s most violent criminals facing more stringent federal charges.

“It’s those who jab their collective finger in the eyes of law enforcement that are repeat offenders, that we know are causing the violent crime in and around our towns,” he said.

The project is designed to address a rise in violent crime in towns like Long Branch, Asbury Park and Neptune.

Gramiccioni said the federal system does not offer parole, and offenders convicted of a federal crime can serve their sentence at any federal prison in the United States.

During the press conference, held at the prosecutor’s satellite office in Asbury Park, Gramiccioni said that his office, along with U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, has worked with community and religious leaders in developing the program.

One of those leaders, Lorenzo Dangler, president of the Greater Long Branch Chapter of the NAACP, said in an interview after the press conference that he believes the program would help stem the rise in violence in Long Branch.

“We need to come down a little harder on the gun violence,” he said. “[The program] will ultimately help the city.”

Meetings will be held in the future with members of the community and the prosecutor’s office to give feedback on the effectiveness of the program, Dangler said.

“The NAACP has always been outspoken in regard to violent crime,” he said. “We will never try to tell law enforcement how to do their jobs, but we will certainly give feedback.

“We are trying to come together collectively,” Dangler added. “I hope that we have some more meetings to update the community and try to spread the word that we are supporting this initiative.”

Gramiccioni said prosecutors from both the county and state offices would meet regularly to screen gun and violent crime cases to determine strategies for arresting and prosecuting those who commit the crimes and whether they are candidates for prosecution in federal court.

“A consideration in determining which jurisdiction prosecutes these individuals is which jurisdiction carries the greatest jail time,” he said. “The great thing about the federal jurisdiction is, in most cases the length of incarceration is much greater.”

Gramiccioni said cases will be given priority based on certain factors, including an offender’s criminal history, gang ties and possible involvement in other violent-crime cases throughout the county.

Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Jacquelynn Seely has been assigned as a special assistant U.S. attorney to coordinate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the prosecution of cases in federal court.

According to Gramiccioni, there is an average of 10 to 12 murders a year in Monmouth County, but this year there have been at least seven in Asbury Park and five in Long Branch, which has seen an uptick in violent crimes in 2013.

In addition to the five homicides in Long Branch, there were five rapes, 30 robberies and 301 assaults in the city during the period from Jan. 1 to Oct. 7, according to information obtained from the Long Branch Police Department through an Open Public Records Act request. Monmouth County is the fifth county in the state to have an agreement and partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, according to Fishman, who said the program would make better use of resources.

“Every police organization that I know of is challenged by a lack of funding,” he said. “So we will be better, we will be smarter, we will be more efficient as we work together to try to sort through this problem.”

Fishman said there is a three-pronged approach to violent crime, which is where the partnership with faith-based and community groups comes in.

“We will never arrest our way entirely out of this problem,” he said. “Our strategy, is enforcement, it’s prevention, and it is reentry.”

Gramiccioni said the prosecutor’s office has participated in several other initiatives to reduce gun violence. These include a guns-for-cash buyback program; partnerships with faith-based and community leaders; a Crime Stoppers chapter in the county; additional manpower in Asbury Park and Neptune; and law enforcement-coordination meetings every six weeks.

Since August, the prosecutor’s office has also created a narcotics and gangs task force that operates out of the satellite office and has brought about 164 arrests and 15 gun seizures.

Dangler said he would like more of these initiatives to include Long Branch.

“For some reason, Long Branch always seems to be left out when we have new initiatives,” he said. “Asbury Park and Neptune seem to be the first ones where they try things.

“We should be included because the border is too close,” he added. “We are talking about a 5-mile difference.”

Gramiccioni said the end result of the program would be safer streets in Monmouth County.

“The fundamental principle behind the initiative is gun crime will equal jail time,” he said. “Felons who carry guns will do serious jail time because honest and law-abiding citizens want safe neighborhoods.”