The Jersey City Council approved an ordinance that will move the Quality of Life Coalition Task Force consolidation under the Department of Public Safety by a vote of 7-2 at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Just like during first reading, several members of the public spoke against moving the QLC Task Force into the Department of Public Safety.
Jenny Tang, a member of Solidarity and Mutual Aid Jersey City, said it would result in a larger budget for the Department of Public Safety.
“It would be giving the Jersey City police more reason to ticket people [that] will create incentives and opportunity for racial profiling,” she said.
Tang compared it to the “Broken Windows” theory of policing, which she believed led to police brutality and undocumented immigrants’ deportation.
However, the ordinance calls for non-uniform civilian inspectors enforcing code, as opposed to police.
Although the division will oversee enforcement of ordinances, the mayor’s office said it would be guided by a progressive approach of “education before enforcement” to encourage compliance rather than respond to violations.
Chief Municipal Prosecutor Jake Hudnut would continue to lead the consolidated Quality of Life Taskforce.
Amy Torres, of the Hudson County Progressive Alliance, said that during the city’s budget hearings, the council noted that it wouldn’t make sense to cut public safety because of complaints of noise, littering, and the need to listen to constituents.
She added that the task force would use its enforcement power to fill budget gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Jersey City is not actually responding to this national conversation on safety and community. Instead, you’re relying on old facts,” she said.
Torres said broken windows policing led to the death of Eric Garner.
“Having worked with Jake Hudnut in his previous career [as a public defender], I don’t doubt his intentions to make lives better for Jersey City residents,” said Elayna Thompson, also of Solidarity Jersey City.
Still, Thompson believes it is likely that the enforcement of code violations would fall disproportionately on black and brown residents.
“No amount of branding from the mayor’s office can change what this is … Our communities need investment, not enforcement. The revenue generated by steep fines shouldn’t go to public safety. It should go into the communities harmed intentionally or unintentionally harmed by this.”
Additionally, Dr. Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein believes the increased fines will hurt people who cannot afford to pay them due to the current public health emergency, financial stresses that will be compounded by having to appear in court.
“I understand why the city needs to streamline and cut costs … [but] this is irresponsible and unrealistic … Instead of fining people for littering, why don’t we put in more public trash cans?”
Another city resident, Jeanne Daly, believed the consolidation would be confusing to residents seeking specific city services that are now all under the same department
“It has the potential to undermine the public trust and become taxation by citation. … Residents who accumulate fines might end up in jail if they don’t have the money,” added Arden Donnelly.
Not everyone was against the consolidation.
“I’m in favor of the ordinance. I saw what happened in New York City,” began Yvonne Balcer, who that that New York City Mayor de Blasio has deemphasized broken windows to the determinant of the city.
She also feels people have broken limbs in Jersey City on icy sidewalks because businesses were not fined for ice removal throughout winter.
“A lot of black people going to church don’t want to walk over garbage and ice … We have to hold those landlords accountable for their property,” added Balcer, who has been taken a pro-law enforcement stance in recent months.
Furthermore, Hudnut himself addressed the city council and the public prior to the vote.
“Over the last 17 months, the task force has stood up for our most vulnerable residents by protecting them from abusive landlords, negligent businesses, and other public nuisances,” he explained.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon said he thought the ordinance was a solid idea, but felt it still merited further consideration to work out some kinks.
“I think this ordinance, had we paused for a month, would have passed unanimously and addressed 90 percent of concerns raised,” Solomon said.
“I feel like Prosecutor Hudnut has clear intentions and a vision which aligns with more use of civilian personnel and not the police.”
Questions have not been answered, Solomon stated. He said if Hudnut leaves, enforcement could be worse afterward and realize concerns raised at the meeting.
“I think it falls short … We should not build organizational structures around individuals,” Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro said, reiterating what he said during first reading.
“We should have clear measures for success … What’s the baseline data here?”
Ultimately, the measure passed 7-2, with Solomon and Lavarro voting no.
“This falls in line with conversations taking place nationwide surrounding enforcement, by using civilian inspectors and giving them more tools to address quality of life enforcement rather than defaulting to traditional police officer response,” Mayor Steven Fulop said in a statement.
“We want to give these violators the opportunity to correct the issues before bringing them to court, that way we can get more positive results for the residents and everyone is happier in the end.”
The mayor’s office said the task force has coordinated several city enforcement agencies’ efforts and had success in prosecuting absentee landlords, inattentive property owners, polluters, negligent businesses, and other public nuisances.
While Solomon and Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley withdrew their respective resolutions forming a Jersey City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to come up with a compromise, many nonetheless took the opportunity to advocate for its adoption.
“We need an ordinance that is crafted by the people of the city where advocates on the ground are solicited,” Anupama Sapkota said.
Many expressed anger the mayor has the power to appoint the chair and vice chair of the CCRB under Ridley’s ordinance, though she has pointed out that is consistent with state legislation.
Nevertheless, activists believe Fulop would appoint individuals who are sympathetic to police officers.
“These cries seem to have fallen on death ears,” said Sapkota. She derided the delay in the passage of the CCRB.
Likewise, Linda Velas expressed the CCRB should be independent and powerful.
“If more money was allocated to social services, there would be less homelessness and addiction,” said Velas.
Still, there were a few speakers who expressed satisfaction in the direction the city was moving in.
“Defunding the police will only make things worse … We in Ward F are in dire need of more social services,” Valerie Taylor said.