Actions triple on Hoboken drugs, gangs

Actions triple on Hoboken drugs, gangs
Monday, August 28, 2006
Journal Journal
HOBOKEN - Outrage over the murder of a local teenager earlier this year combined with a recent massive drug raid has led city officials to ramp up their use of a controversial "one-strike" policy that allows them to kick suspected criminals out of city public housing.

"We are in the process of making Hoboken a safe, decent place to live. One way to combat the drug and gang activity is to make residents realize the seriousness of the crimes and understand that they are risking tenancy," Hoboken Housing Authority Executive Director Bob DiVincent said.

Last year, fewer than 10 eviction proceedings were started against tenants for drug-related reasons, says DiVincent. But thanks to greater information sharing between the Hoboken Police Department and the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, nearly 30 eviction proceedings have begun this year - and more are expected.

"We are not going to stop until the crime stops," said DiVincent, adding that an April raid by local and federal officials nabbed dozens of suspected criminals and has contributed to the spike.

The federal policy extends to all people listed on a unit's lease - regardless of their involvement in the crime - and a large number of residents say that such a narrow policy fails to take into account the complexity of life in public housing and threatens to throw dozens of innocent people on the street.

"I have been here for a long time, and I've never seen anything like this before. Whole families are being thrown out," said Anna, who refused to offer a last name.

Many children no longer live in the apartment complex for a number of reasons, but the Housing Authority will not let the children off the lease unless they get the child's permission and their new address, said a number of angry residents.

Hoboken's Housing Authority has not "given enough individual attention to the circumstances," says Gregory Diebold, deputy director of Northeast New Jersey Legal Services, a non-profit group that has represented a number of Hoboken tenants.

"The Supreme Court, when they upheld the policy, said that Housing Authorities should take into account all circumstances," Diebold said.

Hoboken Police Chief Carmen LaBruno has ordered police officers to testify in the court cases that are a part of the eviction proceedings. He says the officers will help make the evictions stick.

Residents who have been arrested - a conviction is not necessary - must argue against eviction in court. The process takes anywhere from 30 to 60 days, and if residents are unsuccessful, they are essentially kicked out on the street.

City Councilman Chris Campos, who grew up in the city's public housing, is spearheading the political side of the recent campaign. He says the renewed focus stems from the outrage over the February shooting death of 18-year old Ismar "Mooky" Mineros. However, Campos said it should be enforced with some common sense, which underscores the complexity of the policy when officials are forced to make judgment calls on what drugs and crimes are allowable and which ones should not be tolerated.

"We need to distinguish between levels of crime, and each case should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. When there is evidence, we need to follow through with the action," said Campos.

Mayor David Roberts said he supports the renewed focus on the policy, adding that he "assumes" that proper discretion is being used to adjudicate the matters.

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