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Atlantic City mayor launches One Neighborhood Evolution to interrupt violence

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Marty Small Sr.

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr.

ATLANTIC CITY — Throughout the country, cities struggling with violence have supplemented traditional law enforcement by turning to people who have an authentic connection to the streets in hopes of stopping criminal behavior before it starts.

Mayor Marty Small Sr. announced Thursday that Atlantic City will follow the lead of other urban areas, such as Newark and Los Angeles, and form an anti-violence initiative called One Neighborhood Evolution. The program, which is partially funded through a $75,000 grant by the Atlantic City Police Foundation, will employ reformed and rehabilitated residents who can resolve conflicts and intervene in potentially violent situations.

The mayor said the city has started recruiting people to work as “interrupters or violence preventers,” and the program will begin as soon as possible.

“It takes a special type of person to do this work,” Small said. “These are people who have history in the street. Because, in this day and age, you have to have people who have history in the street, that are respected by people in the street, to deal with it and give them options.”

Atlantic City has been experiencing an increase in violence, with no fewer than five incidents involving guns in the past two weeks. At least five people have been reported injured and one person has died, according to authorities.

Small and James Sarkos, interim officer in charge of the Atlantic City Police Department and vice chairman of the nonprofit foundation, said discussions about ONE began over a year ago and needed approval from various stakeholders, including the state, which has direct oversight of the city.

“It’s important for the community to know that this is not a reactionary measure to the violence,” the mayor said during Thursday’s news conference at City Hall. He later added, “There’s a lot of problems. It didn’t get this way overnight, and it’s not going (to be solved) overnight. But I believe today is a crucial step forward.”

In addition to serving as intermediaries in potentially violent situations, the “interrupters” will be armed with resources — such as information and contacts for job placement programs or housing — that officials believe will ultimately prevent future incidents.

Sarkos said he was excited about launching ONE in Atlantic City and expressed optimism about its potential.

“It’s been used in other places and been very successful,” he said.

At-large Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy II and 2nd Ward Councilwoman LaToya Dunston recently completed a training course hosted by the Newark Street Team, an anti-violence initiative in New Jersey’s most populated city. Although the mayor’s program and the councilmembers’ training are unrelated, Fauntleroy said he was convinced the initiative would work in Atlantic City.

“I think it’s absolutely something that’s needed,” Fauntleroy said Thursday. “No matter who does it, as long as they’re helping to decrease the violence ... kudos to them.”

Contact: 609-272-7222

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Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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