Safety on the boards
ATLANTIC CITY — City officials, members of law enforcement and local merchants are scrambling to address Boardwalk safety in the resort following two incidents in the past week.
The topic was thrust into the spotlight last Thursday after Mehmood Ansari, 65, died following an altercation with two juveniles at City Souvenirs, his store in the 1500 block of the Boardwalk.
Earlier this week, officials had called a special meeting for Thursday morning intending to find solutions to address the crime and safety issues, including increasing the police presence on the Boardwalk after another incident occurred exacerbating the already volatile air of fear and mistrust.
On Monday, store clerk Malik Awais, 26, of Egg Harbor Township, was charged with falsely reporting to law enforcement authorities after calling 911 saying H&A Fashions, in the 1400 block of the Boardwalk, had been robbed.
“It was ultimately found that the alleged crime did not occur and the report was fabricated,” said interim police Officer-in-Charge James Sarkos.
Council President George Tibbitt said members of the Atlantic City Merchants Association are devastated by this “fabrication.”
Amer Kashmiri, the association’s president, said he couldn’t comment on the arrest but said the group would continue working with Tibbitt and other city officials on a plan to make the Boardwalk safer.
Both incidents prompted Mayor Marty Small Sr. to hold his own news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“Incidents like this will not be tolerated in the great city of Atlantic City,” Small said of Monday’s alleged false report. “And incidents that happened on the 1500 block of the Boardwalk that unfortunately resulted in a fatality will not be tolerated, and the people will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Small said the city will “dedicate all of the resources necessary” to ensure safety on the Boardwalk, adding the city needs police everywhere.
“That’s something that we’re working on, and it started this morning,” Small said. “We promoted nine full-time police officers from Class II.”
Additionally, 15 part-time, Class II police officers will be sworn in Friday, he said.
Small cited racism as a possible catalyst for the latest incident.
“To call the police, to put pictures on social media and to say that young African-American children repeated the incident again won’t be tolerated,” Small said. “This is not a race war. We’re not going to let Atlantic City become (like) these other cities that have these issues. ... It’s not a white city, it’s not a Black city, we are all one city working together.”
In the meantime, store owners for months have said they felt vulnerable to shoplifting and harassment due to what they say is a lack of police protection.
“There are no police on this Boardwalk,” Sally Mitchell, who owns a palm reading business in the 1500 block of the Boardwalk, said Tuesday. “We need police protection because without our businesses, this Boardwalk would be nothing.”
Mitchell was at her store last Thursday when Ansari collapsed.
“I can still hear his sons screaming,” Mitchell said. “I feel so sad for them because all they needed was police protection.”
Police responded to City Souvenirs at 7:41 p.m. Thursday for a report of a male with a knife. Personnel at the police Surveillance Center advised officers that multiple juveniles were damaging the store and assaulting people, according to the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office. While attempting to steal items, a 12-year-old brandished a knife and threatened the store owner.
Responding officers arrested the 12-year-old and a 14-year-old. Shortly after the arrival of officers, Ansari collapsed and stopped breathing, the Prosecutor’s Office said. After several people attempted CPR, Ansari was transported to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, where he was pronounced dead.
The 12-year-old is charged with two counts of robbery, unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, simple assault, shoplifting, terroristic threats and conspiracy. He was brought to the Harborfields Juvenile Detention Facility in Egg Harbor City.
The 14-year-old is charged with robbery, simple assault, shoplifting and conspiracy. She was released to a parent’s custody pending court.
Nabeel Azem, whose family owns a clothing store near South Carolina Avenue, echoed Mitchell’s concerns.
“Every block they need at least one cop,” Azem said. “So if there are people trying to be trouble makers, they (police) will be there to help us because I don’t see a lot of cops here on the Boardwalk.”
On Tuesday, Tom Forkin, a Republican who is challenging incumbent Small in the mayoral race, announced a proposal to bring three new police substations to the Boardwalk and to revise community policing practices.
Forkin has called for the immediate hiring of 150 police officers, which he said would be paid for with a portion of the luxury, room and parking tax.
“Simply put, people will not come to Atlantic City if they do not feel safe,” Forkin said in a statement. “Our present Mayor and Council have been complicit with the state takeover which has been a train wreck for the residents and tourism industry here in Atlantic City and the region. The gross understaffing of our ACPD & ACFD is a perfect example of that.”
During Wednesday’s news conference, Small said he and Sarkos believe in community policing and the use of substations.
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