A $1 million grant to battle a rising gang problem in Lakewood, NJ, with a police task force and youth intervention programs fell through last week due to budget constraints, officials said.
It was the second time community leaders tried to win the five-year federal grant, this year with more urgency as a series of sensational crimes makes headlines here.
The Township Committee declined to sign off on the grant application, due Tuesday, because it couldn’t afford the $50,000 a year, or 25 percent municipal share of the grant, Mayor Bob Singer said Friday.
“We like the program, we like the idea, but I can’t in these economic times set aside $50,000,” he said. “I don’t have it.”
Grant organizers were counting on existing programs to offer their resources as “in-kind services” that would compensate for the money. But, as with the township, their belts also were too tight to lend enough support, said Ervin Oross, Lakewood’s community development director who wrote the grant application. Organizers also cited miscommunication that delayed the final paperwork.
“It’s a horrible “Catch 22,’ ” Oross said. “The feds are really hot about this because of the cop shooting, but on the other hand, all these groups are busted.”
Oross was referring to the September raid in which four local police officers were shot while serving a warrant to a suspected drug dealer. In another case, a jury last month convicted three Lakewood gang members in the murder of a woman who was killed to silence a witness to another murder in 2006. More than 10 gangs are active in Lakewood, with 300 to 500 total members, according to the application.
The “Weed and Seed” grant, handed across the country by the U.S. Justice Department, would, in Lakewood, be two-pronged.
The “Weed” portion would set up a 10-officer task force to monitor and mitigate gang activity in schools and known gang areas of town. A message left with Police Chief Robert Lawson was not returned. The “Seed” portion would assist those trying to escape gang life by offering social, educational and employment services. It also would create a re-entry program for past offenders.
The last attempt to secure the grant was in 2007.