Law enforcement officials, legislators, and residents of Asbury Park and its surrounding neighborhoods met in order to address the issue of violence in and around the city.

The gymnasium of the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County’s Asbury Park location was packed Tuesday evening to discuss issues of violence prevention, spurred on by a recent string of gun deaths.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Warshaw, State Senator Jennifer Beck, Asbury Park Police Chief Mark Kinmon, City Manager Terence Reidy, and County Sheriff Shaun Golden addressed the issues and took questions from the audience.

Warshaw spoke of the importance that building a culture of communication between law enforcement officials creates. He spoke from personal experience, hearkening back to his days in the city’s Major Case Department, about the trouble law enforcement faces trying to get witnesses to come forward.

“Witnesses didn’t see anything, witnesses didn’t want to get involved. Sometimes it’s based on fear, and sometimes it’s based on other reasons which aren’t as noble.” said Warshaw, regarding a case involving the accidental shooting of a four year old girl in her own room. Similar to the recent incident which saw an 11 year old girl also accidentally get hit in the face with a stray bullet while in her own home.

He noted that often police know who committed a violent crime, the challenge has long been to prove it.

He says the goal of the evening is to let residents know that they can trust police and prosecutors.

”Our goal is to have people comfortable with the idea of coming to police.”

Asbury Park Police Chief Mark Kinmon echoed the importance of developing a rapport between police and residents, citing an increase effort by police to not only address issues related to fighting crime but also building a presence within the community.

Kinmon also explained though there has been a streak of high profile shootings as of late, the Asbury Park Police Department is actually making strides to decrease crime in the city.

The Chief notes that 2011 has had the lowest amounts of violent crimes reported in the past ten years. Only 260, as opposed to 344 just last year. He also points to figures which say the amount of guns recovered has been climbing steadily, with 78 weapons recovered by the ACPD in 2011. Additionally narcotics complaints are down from over a thousand annually to 251 last year.

He says thanks to a grant, 10 additional surveillance cameras will be installed to supplement the nine existing ones.

Asbury Park Police Chief Mark Kinmon

City Manager Reidy spoke briefly before questions began on the importance of using the evening as an opportunity to work towards solutions.

“The solutions to the issues we’re here to deal with is in this room.” Said Reidy “For too long our community has been fractured, there has been a lack of trust. We have to risk to make things better.”

The question and answer portion of the discussion addressed issues of race, economic disparity, and attention from officials.

Tara Ferguson, a manager of the Neptune based OG Surf and Skate shop in Neptune, sees first hand how a mistrust of authorities is affecting young people.

“The children that I know, when they see the police department they don’t see their friends, the see the people who are there to get them in trouble.”

Asbury resident Felicia Simmons gave an impassioned plea to the panel about the need for a change of attitude from both parties, focusing on respect. She says simply having police arrest people isn’t enough, there needs to be a connection with the community for things to change.

“It’s a person who knows this person’s father, this person’s mother, I know you’re mad because something happened last week.”

She notes there is disconnect between many of the organizations throughout the town, including the police.

“There’s disconnect between where you put you’re values and what do you respect. Do you respect the kids, do you respect the people living here or do you just want them to move and keep quiet.”

Simmons says the real issues have to do with race, and socio economic standing. She notes that Asbury Park is a very poor area amidst some of the richest townships in Monmouth County.

“There’s real underlying issues that won’t be addressed here because they don’t want to talk about it.”

Resident Teretha Jones brought up the aspect of racism playing a part in the city’s troubles.

She says there is still a real issue of racial disconnect between the East and West side of the city.

“When you go onto Cookman Avenue, you don’t see people of color. When you go into the stores they instantly say ‘Can I help you?’ or ‘What do you want?’ or they follow you like you’re going to do something.”

She notes that occurs even to people who are older and are going into the shops. Furthermore Jones states that the demographics of the city’s politics are not representative of the area as a hole.

“The disparity is really clear when you go to council meetings, boardwalk activities, theater activities, and it shouldn’t be that way. We’re only one square mile.”

Overall Jones believes the forum didn’t accomplish much because as she believes “the people creating the disparity are not here. They are the people that don’t look like me that are offenders.”

General Contractor Duanne Small told the panel that he believes the underlying issue beyond the crime is the economic instability residents of Asbury Park face.

He believes much of the gang related crimes in the city is the result of people who are left with few viable options for legitimate work.

“The have to go to the streets because you’re not going to starve as an individual.” Says Small “it’s just like an animal in the animal kingdom, when it’s time for him to eat what does he do? He goes hunting, he doesn’t care what he’s hunting, he has to eat.”

He says that though there is development going on in Asbury Park, the community isn’t seeing the benefit of the jobs.

“The majority of the jobs in our community is going to outsiders and when the money is being taken out of the community it creates a problem within the community.” Says Small

”Every community where there is a lack of jobs you have crime, you have drugs, you have chaos and that’s what’s going on right now.”

Small notes meetings like the one being held do help the problem because they address what he believes is another major problem contributing to the crime rate, lack of communication.

“When there is communication then you can begin to solve your problems. This is a step forward with this program.”