I write this as a Trenton taxpayer who lives in the Hiltonia section of the city. I am very concerned about the repeated effort to fire the current Police Director, Steve Wilson. This is not the effort of the Mayor, who hires the director and ultimately has the responsibility of firing him for lack of performance. This action is being driven by the City Council. The question for me is what has revived this effort after all the pushback from residents in support of the Director? The initial effort was tabled and now, without any evidence proving the Director is not meeting expectations of our city’s residents, the Administration or the Police Department, the City Council plans to vote for his removal.
Is this about the number of homicides resulting from gun violence, or is something else at play? As a resident of the City of Trenton, I believe we the residents deserve an explanation. Such a critical decision should be made based on data and not emotion. Yes, public safety is a very emotional topic but resolving the issue of gun violence will never be accomplished by emotional decision making. What I find difficult to understand is blaming Director Wilson for a problem that he did not make. The Director has only been in office less than a year.
Let’s look at the facts, for two consecutive years Trenton has experienced 40 homicides resulting from gun violence. In a city where 30% of the residents live at or below the poverty level a high crime rate can be expected. The hopelessness, desperation and trauma cause people to make very bad choices. In 2020, I was commissioned by the 4Cs (Capitol City Community Coalition) to facilitate an activity to uncover the root causes of Trenton gun violence. With the assistance of (6) Six Sigma and process volunteers and nearly 70 residents and stakeholders of Trenton, over multiple days, a total of six hours in a fishbone (root cause) analysis determined that the primary causes of Trenton gun violence were:
1. Childhood Trauma
2. High Levels of Poverty
3. The Need for Business Relationships to Create Good Paying Jobs
4. Collaborative Policing and Community Engagement
5. Prison, Community Reform/Culture Change
2020 root cause diagrams of violence in Trenton
Of the five causes determined to be at the root of Trenton gun violence, only number four had to do with policing. Police Director Wilson attended the very first presentation of the findings at a 4Cs meeting attended by the Acting AG Andrew Bruck and other leadership in law enforcement. Upon seeing the results, he immediately approached me about community engagement efforts of re-establishing the Police Explorers and the Police Activities League formerly known as the Police Athletic League (P.A.L.) by working with Trenton School District and community volunteers. The Director said, “The way to support the students in the city was to ensure the program was more than just sport and play but also about learning and skills development”.
As for collaborative policing and partnerships, Director Wilson reestablished relationships with multiple agencies. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s office and the Sheriff have dedicated personnel to the Shooting Response Team raising the solve rate from approximately 12% to 55%. The Director has solidified relationships with the FBI, NJ Division of Criminal Justice, State Police, Ewing and Lawrence Police (they help out with patrol) and the DEA. The data indicates that Director Wilson has solved a greater percentage of homicides than his predecessor.
Director Wilson-from 7-1-2021 to 4-25-2022, there were 36 shooting Homicides/20 Solved with a 55% clearance
Director Coley-from 7-1-2020 to 4-25-2021, there were 27 Shooting homicides/12 solved with a 44% clearance
(This data was provided by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office)
I am troubled by the actions of the City Council. If someone in authority takes a position based solely on opinion, emotion and vengefulness with no basis or grounding in fact or truth; data or evidence, it can be viewed as an abuse of power and authority. My teacher, in a lecture in 2007 entitled, “The Use and Abuse of Authority,” said, “One cannot exercise authority properly in ignorance. He asked, “Do we exercise our authority in conformity with morality, reason, justice and truth, or do we just exercise it because we have it?”
For me, the ignorance here refers to not having a clear knowledge and understanding of issues, the subject matter, the rationale or the potential pain and consequences of making a poor decision. The question that needs to be asked is, “What drives the decision making?” My prayer is that the City Council will reconsider their plan, listen to the citizens and stop the persecution of Director Wilson. We really need the branches of our city government to work more collaboratively in making Trenton a safer place to live.