Lakewood Passes a Resolution to Seek Federal Gunds for Anti-gang Program
It’s no secret that Lakewood Township has gangs. What’s important is that Mayor Menashe Miller and Lakewood Township officials are taking steps to institute an anti-gang program by applying for a three-year federal grant of $750,000.00. With grant money, Lakewood officials will develop a program focusing on primary prevention; i.e., looking at children between the ages of seven and 14.
According to Joanne Bergin, the grant writer, studies conducted by the federal government have shown that prevention at the very youngest age is the most helpful in gang prevention.
Bergin said, “Mayor Miller started a steering committee of people from the police department, township officials, the school board, and several community groups, including people from the Teen Center, Omega 13, and the Homework Club, among others, at the Saint Barnabas Healthcare Systems Institute for Prevention. The goal of the steering committee was to come up with programs and initiatives they could implement to prevent children from being drawn into gang activities.”
The steering committee was charged with realistically looking at a gang-prevention program that would include programs and services not only in school but after school and during the summer time; programs for families to help them help their kids; and programs in the community that would help everyone form a bond that would help and protect children.
Bergin said, “It is a wonderful opportunity, a very positive program. We have had folks join us from the state police, the Ocean County prosecutor’s office, and the New Jersey State Parole Office. Everybody has been active and engaged; and together we can actually make a huge difference. That is why we are putting this grant application together.”
Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein, representing Lakewood Township, met with officials from other towns about their programs and projects to combat the appeal of gangs. Committeeman Lichtenstein said, “The mayor of Irvington told us that the police department on its own cannot handle a growing gang problem in a town. Intervention in the schools, and intervention from clergy or community groups that have outreach programs groups are necessary. The mayor of Plainfield said they have worked something out so that their schools remain open, as well as some of the gyms and some of the sporting facilities. The mayor of Irvington, their safety director, and the police chief described a program they instituted involving some of their officers gaining trust in certain neighborhoods. They also spoke about agency interaction, which included the federal government, the county government, the state government, and the municipal government.
“The grant we are seeking recognizes children who should not be gang members but who can potentially fall into that pitfall because of a lack of structure at home or because of a lack of structure after school, making the street more enticing to them. Our police department is also working with various agencies. For example, Colonel Fuentez from the New Jersey State Police has agreed to commit resources under Chief Lawson’s direction to help out in Lakewood. These are all things the mayor and I would like to explore.”
Mayor Miller reported that since about six weeks ago there have been at least two law enforcement operations that have resulted in dozens of gang-related arrests,taking narcotics and guns off the streets of Lakewood. Mayor Miller said, “Chief Lawson reported that there has been a serious decline in gang-related activities over the past six to seven weeks here in Lakewood. Certainly the efforts our police department is putting forth combined with the grant and the social aspects we need to work on are going to help us make some serious headway.”
Committee Lichtenstein urges residents to call the Quality of Life hotline at 732-942-5003 to report unusual activity in any abandoned houses or apartments; or if they notice any drug activity, illegal activity, or gang activity in general; or if they see any areas tagged by gang graffiti.