Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office

                                 25 Kirkpatrick Street, 3rd Floor, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 08901 (732) 745-3300


                                *News Release*          Date: August 19, 2009




Forfeited funds used to combat gun violence



Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan and Middlesex County Freeholder Mildred S. Scott today announced a plan to appropriate $50,000 to develop a wide-ranging community program to curb gun violence.


The program, SPEAK UP New Brunswick, will offer educational services, advertising and a media campaign geared toward encouraging youngsters to protect themselves by taking an active role in efforts to keep weapons out of schools and out of the hands of children.


Key to the program will be participation in ‘’SPEAK UP,” a national hotline in which youths can call to anonymously report weapons-related threats. The number is 1-866-SPEAK UP (1-866-773-2587).


‘’The majority of our youth are very concerned about staying safe,’’ said Freeholder Scott, chair of the county’s Law and Public Safety Committee.


‘’As we are aware, weapons have been accessible to youth. One less weapon could save many lives. The hotline can prove to be a powerful tool for our students to use to protect themselves and everyone’s safety.’’


          The county’s contribution to the program comes from money seized from defendants who had obtained proceeds through illegal activities, such as selling drugs, Prosecutor Kaplan said.


‘’Our goal has and will continue to be the elimination of violence on the streets and in the schools before it occurs,’’ Kaplan stated, adding that this program furthers that objective.


The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General reviewed and approved the expenditure of the forfeiture funds, and is contributing an additional $50,000 through a grant from the office’s crime prevention program, which is part of Governor Jon S. Corzine’s Strategy for Safe Streets and Neighborhoods.


The additional money will allow the state and county to expand the SPEAK UP program beyond New Brunswick to other towns in Middlesex County.


‘’The goal is to end gun violence and make schools safer through increased awareness, education and communication strategies,’’ Attorney General Anne Milgram said. ‘’This educational program will encourage young people to report illegal guns and support our fight to make our streets and neighborhoods safer.’’


The program will be administered by PAX / Real Solutions to Gun Violence, of New York City.


In 2002, PAX established the national hotline, which has logged nearly 30,000 calls that have been forwarded to police departments. As a result, police have been able to defuse thousands of potentially dangerous situations, according to Daniel Gross, CEO and founder of PAX.


‘’A study by the U.S. Secret Service determined that in 81 percent of school shootings, the attacker tells someone about their plans,’’ Gross said. ‘’Often, students know about weapons threats before they occur, but don’t tell anyone for fear of retaliation or negative social repercussions.’’


‘’However, the majority of young people are willing to report threats if given the appropriate tools, and anonymity is a key factor that increases student reporting,’’ he said.


The program initially operated in New Brunswick between 2006 and 2008, through a $205,504 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. During that time, organizers met with community groups, police, school officials and youths to get out their message of safety.


With the new funding from Middlesex County, organizers plan to renew contact with New Brunswick school officials, police and community organizations to help promote the hotline, and distribute educational materials to familiarize students with the hotline.


Plans also are in the works for the development of a texting system, so youngsters will have a key word that will enable them to reach the hotline through their cell phones.


‘’This program gives our youth another avenue in which to communicate with the police and they can do so anonymously if they feel uncomfortable about revealing their identity,’’ New Brunswick Police Director Anthony A. Caputo said.


‘’I encourage our youth, and everyone else in the community, to participate and help keep our community and our schools safe,’’ the director said.


The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders is scheduled to vote to approve the appropriation at its next regular meeting on Thursday, August 20, 2009.