Crime A Major Issue For Atlantic City Resurgence [AUDIO]
This is the third part of a five-day series exploring Atlantic City’s revitalization efforts. Read the full series here.
One of the focuses of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authorities Master Plan for Atlantic City's Tourism District was to create a "clean and safe" environment for visitors to enjoy.
However, the city extends far beyond the shadow of the gaming halls and residents feel crime is one of the issues that continuously plagues their home.
Tom Gilbert was appointed the Head of the Tourism District and as part of the Master Plan launched one an intensive initiative to address the crime. Cameras with facial recognition software, license plate readers, and added police force has done wonders in providing security to visitor's of the Tourism District. However, outside of the purview of the CRDA, crime remains one of the most prevailing factors that Atlantic City natives worry about.
According to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 2010, homicides were more commonplace in Atlantic City than in any other major casino market except Detroit.
Those statistics may seem frightening however Mayor Lorenzo Langford notes that despite the perception, crime has continually gone down.
"About two years ago, I got a report from the chief, he was the acting chief at the time, and the overall crime rate in Atlantic City had gone down for nineteen consecutive years. "
While that may be the case, many residents say crime is still a very real and very dangerous threat to their lives-especially for parents.
"I'm going to be afraid someone is going to be shooting and hitting my babies," says one young father living on Artic Avenue. Another grandmother who lives in the cities North Maryland Avenue neighborhood says she is constantly reminded of the danger.
"You have to watch out for shots sometimes. I'm scared to sleep at night I stay up all night with my grandbaby."
Langford on the other hand believes a lot of the reputation the city receives is due to unfair media scrutiny.
"All you need is to have one sensational gruesome act committed and that dominates the landscape for the next six months."
He and other officials are quick to point out Atlantic City has a population of around forty thousand that balloons several times over during the summer season. Warren Massey, former chairman of the Atlantic City Housing Authority and community activist, says outsiders are often responsible for the crime in Atlantic City.
"When you compare how small we are with the kinds of crimes that are taking place, I think a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that we have people coming into this city who don't live here who commit a lot of these crimes also."
Since the CRDA began its Master Plan for the Tourism District class two police officers have been brought in to patrol the area, joining the three hundred and thirty Atlantic City Police Officers. Mayor Langford notes the CRDA's ambassadors also help keep a presence of order within the tourism district and casino security as well as transit police has been cooperating with the City to keep visitors feeling safe.
Langford is happy with the current cumulative police force, and says they have no plans to expand their department. He notes "you can't have a cop on every corner" and they have everything they need in place.
"It's up to the man upstairs and human nature to determine where crime is going to go."
Massey however feels the issue with the current police force isn't the personnel, but rather the deployment.
"They have always had issues with deployment, and they don't seem to be able to get that together. I don't understand why." Noting there isn't nearly enough police throughout the residential areas of the city.
He doesn't count out the responsibility of the community to do its part, acknowledging there needs to be an effort to have more community policing that can work in conjunction with ACPD.
"The residents need to be a part of the growth; they have to be a part of the growth. If they're not a part of the growth then you can't expect anything to happen."
However, Massey says the police department and the Mayor need to do a lot more to build a relationship with the public.
"They have to stop making residents feel like we don't belong here, because when you get that kind of feeling inside of you, then you don't give a damn."