Newark police partner with company that allows them to access customers’ security cameras with permission
March 21, 2012
NEWARK — Mayor Cory Booker launched his police department into the information age today, announcing a series of technology upgrades for New Jersey’s largest police agency.
The Newark police department has installed dashboard cameras in 52 of its 400 cruisers.
The department has installed dashboard cameras in 52 city cruisers, and formed a partnership with a New York City security company that could allow detectives to view live feeds from security cameras at private businesses around the city, Booker and Police Director Samuel DeMaio said during a press conference this morning.
“We needed to go from the age of the Flinstones to the age of the Jetsons,” Booker said.
Paid for by more than $300,000 in federal grants, the long-ago promised dashboard cameras will be placed in patrol and traffic cruisers, where DeMaio says they will help protect citizens from possible officer misconduct and protect officers from frivolous Internal Affairs complaints.
Booker also announced the city’s partnership with SecureWatch24, a company that provides police with access to their customer’s security camera feeds, as long as the property owner agrees to let detectives watch. The network, which has 23,000 subscribers in New York City, currently has 20 customers in Newark but they are looking to expand, according to Jay Stuck, SecureWatch24’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
Despite concerns about privacy, Stuck said the company meticulously tracks who accesses the video streams and when. Police are only allowed to tap into the cameras as a crime is being committed or during the course of an active investigation, Stuck said.
DeMaio also announced an online service that allows residents to report non-violent crimes via the department’s web site. Booker said the move will allow residents to file complaints and help the short-staffed department save “literally thousands” of man hours.
DeMaio applauded the cameras and a locator system that allows police leaders to track the location of department cruisers, saying he’s doing his best to make the state’s largest police agency more open to the public.
“One of the things we committed to back in May was making the Newark Police Department more transparent,” he said.
March 20, 2012
TRENTON — High school students in 14 urban school districts would be eligible for college scholarships under a proposed initiative announced by Gov. Chris Christie today.
Governor Chris Christie gets a high five with students at Trenton Catholic Academy in Hamilton where he discussed higher education on Tuesday, March 20, 2012. Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger
Christie wants $1 million in his budget to fund an urban scholarship program. Under the program, up to 1,000 students would get $1,000 scholarships for four years.
To qualify, students must meet income requirements, be in the top 5 percent of their class, and have a 3.0 grade point average.
They can be used to attend any college in New Jersey, public or private.
The scholarships will be available starting in the fall 2012-2013 school year.
Christie announced the parameters of the scholarships today in front of more than 30 high school students seated in bleachers at the Trenton Catholic Academy gym. He first announced the scholarships and other higher education increases in his budget address last month.
“Why should we not allow college to be a real possibility for those children?” Christie said, adding he wants to make higher education more “accessible and available.”
The 14 eligible towns are Asbury Park, Camden, East Orange, Irvington Township, Jersey City, Lakewood, Millville, Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton, Paterson, Plainfield, Roselle and Vineland.
The Higher Education Student Assistance Authority will administer the program and will notify eligible high schools in the next few months.
By Megan DeMarco/Statehouse Bureau
March 17, 2012
NEWARK — The political wheels in Newark continued to turn today with John Sharpe James announcing his desire to fill Donald Payne Jr.’s At-large council seat, should Payne win his bid for Congress.
John Sharpe James, pictured in this 2010 file photo, will seek Donald Payne Jr.’s council seat if Payne goes to Congress.
James, the son of former Mayor Sharpe James, came in fifth in the 2010 race for four At-large council seats, when Newark returned all four incumbents to office. Today he said he should be considered to fill the seat if Payne leaves.
“As the 5th highest vote getter in the last Councilman At-large race, I officially wish to be appointed to the seat should it be vacated by Council President Payne,” James said in a statement.
A decorated veteran of the war in Afghanistan, James attended Morehouse College and received his Juris Doctor from Rutgers-Newark. He said his primary focus would be on the city budget.
“Newark is facing a fiscal crisis with very little emphasis on reducing the budget’s structural deficit, current deficit or planning for future spending,” James said. “One shot budget fixes are insufficient to insure financial stability and increased taxes have a devastating effect on seniors and those on fixed income.”
Newark Mayor Cory Booker has repeatedly said that he inherited a $180 million deficit from James’ father, Sharpe James. Since 2006, Booker officials say that deficit has been whittled down to roughly $60 million.
In 2010 John James ran on the Newark First team, which was deeply critical of the mayor’s administration. Booker is almost certainly going to seek an alternative to James.
“The mayor will take a keen interest in who fills Payne’s seat,” said Booker chief-of-staff Modia Butler.
Payne Jr. announced his candidacy Friday to fill his father’s 10th District Congressional seat. Payne Sr. died last Tuesday after a battle with colon cancer. Newark Councilman Ron Rice is also seeking Payne’s seat, throwing an otherwise sleepy year in local politics into overdrive.
If Payne Jr. wins he will have to vacate his council seat in January and the city council will have 30 days to vote for an interim council person. If the council is tied , Booker will cast the deciding vote. The city will then have to hold a special election to fill Payne’s seat
March 15, 2012
NEWARK — An Essex County judge has sentenced a 32-year-old man to 155 years in prison in connection with the 2007 Newark schoolyard slayings.
During a sentencing hearing this afternoon, Superior Court Judge Michael L. Ravin said Jose Carranza is eligible for parole after 107 years.
Newark schoolyard killings defendant Jose Carranza was convicted of felony murder charges and sentenced today to 155 years in prison.
Carranza was found guilty last month of three counts of felony murder and four counts of robbery in connection with the slayings, which left three college-aged friends dead. A fourth friend survived the attack and testified during Carranza’s trial.
In the August 2007, three Newark friends – Terrance Aeriel, 18, Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey, both 20 – all died from gunshots to the head in the Mount Vernon schoolyard. A fourth friend and sibling of Aeriel, then 19-year-old Natasha Aeriel, was shot in the head but survived the attack.
All four were either attending or planning to attend Delaware State University that fall.
Carranza is one of six men accused in the killings. Two of the six accused – Rodolfo Godinez, 28, and Alexander Alfaro, 21 – were convicted by a jury and are serving life sentences. Two others – Shahid Baskerville, 20, and Melvin Jovel, 22 – pleaded guilty; Jovel is serving a life sentence and Baskerville accepted a 30-year sentence in exchange for testifying at Carranza’s trial and the trial.
Baskerville will also testify at the trial of the remaining defendant, Gerardo Gomez, 19.
Prosecutors have said that all six defendants charged in the shootings have ties to a Central American gang known as MS-13 and they believe the murders were gang-related.
Authorities say that Carranza’s fingerprint, found on a 40-ounce bottle of still-cold beer, and the lone survivor’s identification of him, places him at the scene of the murders. His attorney argued during trial that a fingerprint alone does not indicate whether he participated in the attack.
An Essex County jury found Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru, guilty of felony murder and robbery on Feb. 14. The jury acquitted the 32-year-old of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, sexual assault, conspiracy to commit robbery and weapons charges.
Carranza is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in an unrelated aggravated assault case and was free on bail when the killings occurred. He and his family maintain that he is innocent.
March 15, 2012
NEWARK — British Prime Minister David Cameron is in Newark meeting with its mayor, before finishing his trip to the United States with a visit to New York City and the 9/11 memorial.
British Prime Minister David Cameron proposes a toast as he and his wife Samantha Cameron attend a state dinner at the White House on Wednesday night. Cameron is meeting with Newark Mayor Cory Booker here today.
Cameron arrived at City Hall in Newark this morning and was briefly greeted by Mayor Cory Booker on the front steps before they headed inside to talk.
The mayor plans to brief the prime minister on programs that could be replicated in Great Britain. They also plan a short walk-around in the city.
Cameron spoke briefly with the mayor about Booker’s time in England as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where he received a degree in modern history in 1994.
March 14, 2012
NEWARK — Former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Chris Christie have arrived at the Metropolitan Baptist Church, as people continue to filter into the funeral service for U.S Rep. Donald Payne in Newark this morning.
Hundreds attend a procession honoring the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Sr. with a horse-drawn military caisson. The public walk, from Whigham Funeral Home on MLK Boulevard winds through Newark to Metropolitan Baptist Church on Springfield Avenue where the wake will take place Tuesday night and funeral service will be held on Wednesday. The 77-year-old statesman died March 6 of colon cancer. (Jennifer Brown /The Star-Ledger)
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Rep. Rob Andrews, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, former Newark Mayor Sharpe James and former Gov. Jim Florio were among those filling out the capacity crowd as mourners filed past Payne’s open casket, half draped in the American flag.
In addition to Clinton and Christie, Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg have all arrived for the Payne funeral
A roster of political brass are scheduled to speak in an anticipated three-hour ceremony. Clinton, Holder, Christie, and Secretary Of Transportation Ray La Hood are among the more than 30 speakers scheduled to give remarks.
Former Attorney General Paula Dow and Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura are also in attendance.
Stepping out of a black town car, the two top law enforcement officials joined about 2 dozen people clad in black outside the church around 10 a.m.
Newark City Council President Donald Payne Jr. stepped out of a black limousine around 10:40 a.m. as honorees continue to pour in for his father’s funeral.
City Council members Ron Rice Jr., Darrin Sharif and Mildred Crump, as well as Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins Jr. have also entered the Metropolitan Baptist Church to pay their final respects to U.S. Rep Donald Payne.
Rev. David Jefferson is giving the opening prayer as the Payne family approaches the casket.
Dressed in a navy suit with a blue and white striped tie, Payne almost looked like he was taking a nap inside his flag-draped casket — which had the U.S. House of Representatives seal emblazoned on the top lid.
Some whispered about how they just had a lunch meeting with him the other day, while others chatted about all the dignitaries — like Clinton — that were scheduled to show up for his funeral service.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Sheriff Armando Fontoura were just a few that arrived shortly before the funeral began.
Just before Payne’s family entered the church, a hush came over the mourners, who all stood while the choir lightly hummed a gospel tune.
The roughly 57-member choir accompanied by flute, keyboard and saxophone provide a quiet musical backdrop to the opening of the service.
Around 11:15, Payne Jr., closed the coffin for the final view of his father.
Gov. Christie said he read over some of Payne’s quotes just before the funeral and was struck by one in particular where Payne spoke about wanting to be a role model to young people on the street corners of Newark.
“‘I want to give them a reason to try,’” said Christie as he read the end of Payne’s quote.
“He did. He did,” added Christie.
Christie said Payne would tell you he never stopped being a teacher and the thing that struck him most about the congressman was “his gentle power.”
As he described how some are brash with power, while others are gentle, the crowd began to chuckle.
“Congressman Payne and I complimented each other,” he said.
“As we celebrate his life today and as we say goodbye, we thank him for his gentle grace … Standing up for those who had trouble standing up for themselves,” Christie added. “To make us a better people — he did that for New Jersey, he did that for America.”
“Donald Payne changed the world,” Christie said.
During his address, Rev. Al Sharpton said some officials get so big that they become useless to the people.
“What made him loved is he was not only global but grounded,” said Rev. Al Sharpton of Payne.
“Donald Payne never forgot why Newark sent him to Trenton and to Washington,” he said. “We never worried when Donald Payne was in the room.”
Sharpton said Payne could be gentle and quiet because he was secure in who he was and that it is why “Newark stands still today” for him.
At one point, Sharpton said Payne would meet with kings and then come talk to kids on the street corners of Newark, adding that he never “suffered from Negro-amnesia.”
Some mourners quickly erupted in laughter.
Sharpton also reminded the crowd that they too will one day have a day like this.
“You just don’t know the date,” he said.
“Donald lived his eulogy,” Sharpton added. “When your time comes, what can we say about you.”
More than a dozen members of the Union of Liberian Associations in America’s (ULLA) New Jersey chapter were hovering a block away from the funeral, standing under a banner bearing Payne’s picture on Mercer Street.
The men and women assembled there referred to Payne as a father-figure to Liberians in both the United States and at home.
“Donald Payne was like a citizen of Liberia. He adopted Liberia as his second home,” said 55-year-old Othello Brandy, wearing a white tee-shirt that reffered to Payne as an “African Hero.” “That’s why we have to be here. He was there for us. He brought peace to us.”
James Savice, the president of ULLA’s Northern New Jersey chapter, said Payne will be remembered as an unforgettable figure in his country’s culture.
“We are here to pay our respects to a fallen hero. He was a voice crying out for Liberian,” Savice said. “He stood for everyone, but Payne was a father to us.”
The funeral, which is open to the public, has also drawn some Newark residents. A half dozen men and women wearing tee shirts reading “Liberians mourn an African hero” under their funeral attire have assembled outside the church.
“Why do the good ones always go first?” asked one woman in the group.
Payne was regarded as a civil rights champion for Africa during his time in Congress.
The funeral service marks the end of a three day goodbye to Newark’s elder statesmen, which also included public memorials and processions throughout the city’s Central Ward.
The public shows of support continued this morning. Several flags hung at half staff at nearby schools and municipal complexes, and the Newark Fire Department blocked off Springfield Avenue with a pair of ladder trucks suspending a large American Flag between them.
The U.S. Army Military District of Washington, which exercises oversight of all joint service ceremonies in the National Capital Region, and elsewhere as directed, is tasked with providing support for portions of Payne’s funeral.
March 12, 2012
NEWARK — City Councilman Anibal Ramos said he was robbed at gunpoint outside of his North Ward home last week, and police are actively searching for the two suspects in the March 7 mugging.
City Councilman Anibal Ramos said he was robbed at gunpoint outside of his North Ward home last week, and police are actively searching for the two suspects in the March 7 mugging.
Ramos said he was returning home from the gym Wednesday night when he noticed two men lurking near his apartment complex. The councilman, who would say only that he lives near Branch Brook Park, became involved in a physical altercation with one of the men but said he threw his hands up when he noticed the second assailant had a firearm.
The attackers ordered Ramos to the ground and took his wallet, stealing only $40, then ran off. Ramos was not hurt.
“I didn’t want to make a big deal of it,” Ramos said. “This is a crime of opportunity that could happen to anyone.”
Ramos filed a police report and looked through a book of mugshots on Thursday. He said the attack happened on private property, not on a street where city officers could have been on patrol.
Police Director Samuel DeMaio said the department will investigate the crime just like any other.
“Robbery is a crime of opportunity that can take place at any given moment. Just like our police officers have been victims of robbery in the past, our council people being part of the community are as susceptible to being victims of a crime just like any of our citizens,” he said in a statement. “The police department is investigating this robbery with the same vigor it would the robbery of any Newark citizen.”
March 11, 2012
NEWARK — Newarkers looking for jobs have a new online tool that could prove decisive for thousands in the work-starved city.
Newark Jobs Connect, an online program that matches applicants with openings, kicked off in Newark with roughly 35,000 job openings for residents. But unlike other sites, the program, powered by Tweet My Jobs, matches positions with seekers based on their individual profiles, proximity and even their friends.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker announced the Jobs Connect online employment matching program in his State of the City address earlier this month.
Newark has been struggling with high unemployment for years, and while the rate declined slightly in 2011 it still hovers around 14 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Job creation starts locally,” said Tweet My Jobs CEO Robin Richards, adding that the tool will “help Newark citizens get back to work whether they’re in need of entry level jobs or seeking executive management positions.”
Applicants can go to the site www.Newark.TweetMyJobs.com, and enter the type of jobs they are seeking. They will be matched with companies from Citibank to Wendy’s looking for workers in the area, with the option to receive notifications instantly, daily, or weekly either through e-mail, social networks, or text message.
Newark Jobs Connect also features the option to scrub a user’s social media profile and see if they have friends or acquaintances already working in the industry, which, proponents said, boosts the applicant’s chances significantly.
“It uses your Facebook network, to figure who on your Facebook platform is working for the companies that are out there,” said Mayor Cory Booker who announced the program in his State of the City address. “That business will be accepting references from its own employees about friends of friends. It’s a very powerful platform.”
February 29, 2012
The community of Mater Dei Academy in Kearny had already survived one Catholic school crisis. In 2009, the Archdiocese of Newark merged the local school, St. Stephen’s, with Holy Cross School in Harrison, creating the newly named Mater Dei Academy and housing it in St. Stephen’s facility on Midland Avenue.
Parents and children leave the Mater Dei Academy at the end of the day. The academy is one of eight elementary schools that the Archdiocese of Newark will close at the end of the academic year.
Now the Mater Dei community is facing round two. The archdiocese has announced the three-year-old school will be shut down in June.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Nicole Mobus of East Newark said as she waited outside the school with her daughter Breann, who graduated last year, for her four other children, enrolled in first, fifth, sixth and eighth grades. “The kids need this school. They get a lot of one-on-one attention. It’s a family.”
Mater Dei Academy is one of eight schools the Archdiocese of Newark will close because of declining enrollments and fragile finances. One, the nationally ranked basketball powerhouse St. Patrick’s in Elizabeth, is a high school. The others are elementary schools: St. Leo/Sacred Heart Interparochial School in Irvington, Queen of Angels in Newark, St. John School in Orange, St. Anne School in Jersey City, and Hillside Catholic Academy in Hillside.
The archdiocese will also close grades 1 through 8 of Assumption Academy in Emerson and will reopen that school as early childhood center for three-year-old pre-kindergarten through kindergarten, archdiocesan officials said.
As enrollments continue to decline, the archdiocese has closed down dozens of Catholic schools over the past several years.
Last year, two were shut down and five in 2010. After June 30, the archdiocese will operate 112 schools, including 81 elementary schools for 31,087 students, according to the archdiocese’s spokesman James Goodness. Ten years ago, there were 176 schools (139 elementary, 37 high) with total enrollment of 52,603.
The Diocese of Paterson said it has no plans to close schools this spring, while the Diocese of Metuchen says it will close St. Cecelia’s School in Iselin at the end of the school year.
Mater Dei families said yesterday they feel the archdiocese did not give them fair warning about their school. They were told enrollment for next year hadn’t met the goals, and fundraising wasn’t strong enough, but both efforts are still unfolding, said Carri Primavera of Kearny, who has children in the first and fifth grades.
“We’re still enrolling, so how can we miss the goal?” she asked. “We’re crying.”
When Mater Dei opened three years ago, it had 250 students, the archdiocese said. This year it has 170.
“It’s heartbreaking for the kids,” said Jose Munoz of Bloomfield, whose two daughters attend the school. “All their friends are here. All will go in different directions.”
Newark Archdiocese’s Vicar of Education and Superintendent of Schools the Rev. Msgr. Kevin Hanbury acknowledged the difficult situation but said the archdiocese could not afford to continue to subsidize the schools, and he said he feared parents couldn’t afford the tuition increases required to achieve self-sufficiency.
“It tears my heart out,” Hanbury said. “No one wants to see their backyard school cease to function. My heart goes out to all these folks who have stayed with these schools. They kept staying with hope, with hope, with hope.”
The archdiocese says it provided between $100,000 and $200,000 to help the schools cover the costs of books, electricity and heart and teacher salaries. In addition to financial trouble, the eight schools suffered sharp declines in student enrollments. St. Patrick’s enrollment for its middle school academy and high school was 151 this year, down from 180 last year and 262 in 2008. Assumption Academy’s K-8 enrollment fell to 137 this year, down from 157 last year and 171 in 2008, the archdiocese reported.
Hanbury said the archdiocese has learned that parents looking to enroll their children want schools with 300 or more students. “There is security in those numbers,” he said.
Hillside Catholic Academy, created by merging several schools in 2006, only lost six students last year, bringing its total enrollment to 159 students, according to the archdiocese. But that number is a sharp drop from its peak of 256 in 2006.
Parents yesterday expressed their anger at the closing of Hillside and three other area schools.
“If this school closes, and all the others ones in the area close, where am I going to put them? I don’t want my kids in public schools,” said Yvonne Holmes, a Newark resident who pays for her granddaughter to attend fourth grade.
Hillside’s home and school association is lobbying the archdiocese, saying it will pay as much as a $1,000 a year more for each student to keep the school operating. So far, 65 to 70 parents have signed a promissory note, said Demesha Herron, the association’s executive director.
“We knows it’s numbers and figures to the archdioceses — and I understand that — but it’s emotional for us,” she said.
February 26, 2012
NEWARK — Newark Mayor Cory Booker is expected to paint a bullish picture of Newark’s fortunes when he delivers his state of the city address next week, but South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka has a different story to tell.
Newark South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, seen in a 2010 photo, gave a 90-minute speech on the state of the ward.
In a speech marked with fiery demands, bold ambitions, stark recriminations and moments of levity, Baraka delivered his state of the South Ward address to an eager crowd Thursday night. He railed against what he sees as a persistent lack of attention and resources devoted to the ward’s many problems and demanded it stop.
“I am the councilman of the South Ward and until the children of the South Ward get dealt with, nobody’s children get dealt with,” Baraka said. “You can print that in the damn Star-Ledger.”
Baraka praised groups like the International Youth Organization, the Jackie Robinson Little League and the South Ward Reads program, which provide critical after-school alternatives to children and teens in the impoverished section of the city.
But he also demanded more money and more time be given to those groups.
“Nobody gets any (Community Development Block Grant) money unless the IYO gets some money,” Baraka said, bemoaning the poor condition of the group’s South 12th Street building.
The councilman, also principal of Central High School, sounded off on the continued lack of local control over Newark’s state-run schools and criticized a recent plan Superintendent Cami Anderson put forth to close several neighborhood schools.
“A plan that was done without our consultation, without our input,” Baraka said of the proposal. “They didn’t ask the council, they didn’t ask the district leaders and they sure didn’t knock on your door.”
Among numerous ideas put forth in the 90-minute speech, Baraka said he wanted to build a South Ward improvement district in the Lyons Avenue area near Beth Israel Hospital.
On the heels of a successful ordinance to limit the hours of Chinese food restaurants and pizza joints, he demanded that businesses in the ward engage with and respect the neighborhoods in which they trade.
“What we are trying to do is hold these businesses accountable like other cities do,” Baraka said, criticizing them for not picking up their trash, allowing loitering and disrespecting neighborhoods. “That’s not going to happen in anybody else’s community and it’s not going to happen in our community.”
But the biggest problem Baraka identified was violence.
“In the South Ward alone, between 2008 and 2011, there were over 111 homicides,” Baraka said. “Not in the city or the county. Where we live.”
He ticked off harrowing statistics, saying that of the 111 people killed, 97 percent were black, 84 percent were male and 37 percent were under 25.
“The murders sit in our neighborhoods like a monument to poverty and despair,” Baraka said.
He repeated his assertion that violence be treated as a public health issue, as advocated by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“So what does that mean?” he said. “You need a three-pronged attack. You need intervention, you need prevention and you need treatment.”
Finally, Baraka demanded a reckoning with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, saying that if the airport and seaport paid what they owed to operate on Newark land, the city would have ample resources.
“You want to stop giving us your money?” Baraka said referring to state bailouts. “Let us have our own money. Tell your governor to give us our property back.”