Mayoral Musing: Gangs, Guns —and Hope

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Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly

Cumberland is one of five counties nationwide to secure funds through the Thrive Initiative.

Cumberland County is like many counties throughout New Jersey in that we have our share of problems like gang-related violence and accompanying gun violence. But unlike those other counties, our county is unique in the ways that we work together and nowhere is that more evident than with our collective (read Vineland, Millville, Bridgeton) efforts through the “CC Thrive” initiative spearheaded by County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae.

The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office was successful in securing $750,000 through the Federal Safe and Thriving Communities Program to do a number of things, including reduction of gang and gun-related violence in Cumberland County. Our county was one of only five locations selected nationwide and this works because often, the individuals and groups that are the focus of these efforts move interchangeably between Vineland, Bridgeton, and Millville.

CC Thrive is in the planning phase, but soon it will be time to implement programs and strategies on the ground. What seems appealing about this approach is that it’s not just about enforcement. CC Thrive incorporates strategies aimed at positive youth development and includes everything from mentoring programs and housing, to economic development, expungement, and after-school activities.

Understand, there are no magic, quick-fix or one-size-fits-all answers to how we reduce gang-related and gun violence. Enforcement and the criminal justice aspect are always there and always will be. But I believe that if there are some positive interventions early in a youngster’s life, there’s a better chance that their lives can be productive ones that end with something other than an early death or a prison term.

Perhaps more importantly, if this program with its various interventions is effective, then it will mean that there will be fewer victims of crime and violence in our communities, fewer grieving families, fewer frightened citizens, fewer nasty headlines, fewer taxpayer dollars diverted from more productive uses to dealing with the mess, and maybe just a little more faith that our future prospects will be bright ones.

The program is also a chance for those whose lives have drifted into the world of gangs and violence, it’s a chance to recalibrate the trajectory of lives before it’s too late. They may not see it that way, but for some it’s one last shot in that space between when the die is cast—and when it hits the floor—to pull back from the choices and decisions that will shape the rest of their lives, because whether they believe it or not, there is a point where it is just too late.

And maybe that’s some of the real value in what CC Thrive provides for our youth. It may not seem like a value-added proposition, but when a stupid decision at 17 or 18 can impact job prospects at 35, expungement matters. When a little mentoring can provide the confidence and self-esteem at age 15 that ends in a semester of college at 19, it’s absolutely worth the effort. If solving housing problems can provide enough stability so that people can get themselves back on track, that’s no small thing either.

But we need your input to help us use these resources where they will do the most good. In order to get your input, the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office has surveys on their website (njccpo.org/thrive/) that once completed, will provide valuable information. The surveys are anonymous and will take about 10 minutes with questions about how safe you feel in your neighborhood—if there are gangs, drugs, or crime present and your thoughts on why problems exist and what might improve things.

Beyond the survey, we will also be holding a community meeting on June 26 (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. at the Marino Center located at 10 Washington Street. In addition to addressing these local topics, we’ve invited Senator Booker’s staff to hold their mobile office hours there on that evening.

You can also learn more about the CC Thrive program via a Comcast Newsmakers segment I was fortunate enough to take part in recently at comcastnewsmakers.com/Videos/2018/5/25/NJ180523- 1. I encourage you to check it out not because I am in it, but because the information itself is important.

No matter what, I strongly encourage everyone, including parents and teens, to visit njccpo.org/thrive/ and complete the survey. This is a resident-driven process and your voice matters most of all.

Mayoral Musing: Something for Everyone 


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