Mayor, Police Meet with Residents to Address Recent Homicide

Residents concerned over safety in the community

James Brown received a phone call Friday night around 10 p.m. that every family member dreads. "Something is wrong," said the voice on the other line. Brown's nephew, James Wilson, 28, had been shot dead 20 minutes earlier at Chestnut Liquors in West Orange's Heights neighborhood.

"I got there and found out what happened," said Brown, 54, in an interview with Patch. "I was 20 minutes late. He was my man."

That fatal shooting during Easter weekend has rattled an entire community and exposed neighbors' deep-seeded safety concerns about growing problems in the area.

"I do feel unsafe in a town that I have never felt unsafe in before," said one resident during a community meeting Tuesday night at Unconditional Love and Christian Fellowship Church on Washington Avenue. The meeting, called by West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi, addressed residents' concerns about the recent homicide.

"I grew up not too far from here. As a child running around in the neighborhood, there was never even the remotest thought on anyone's mind that this would happen," said Parisi, tearing up. "Know that we are committed to restoring your faith in this community."

The two-hour meeting drew more than 100 people from The Heights neighborhood in West Orange. West Orange Police Department Police Chief James P. Abbott, Capt. John Buoye, Commanding Officer Michael Corcoran Jr., along with Parisi, answered residents' questions about safety and crime, while trying to mitigate people's frustration about the incident.

Wilson, a Hillside man, was killed shortly after 9:30 p.m. Friday night while working at the liquor store at 47 Chestnut St. The shooting remains under investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. Officials close to the investigation, who chose to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak regarding the incident said there allegedly were witnesses inside the store during the shooting. No motive has yet been established.

West Orange police sources told Patch there did not appear to be any money or liquor taken from the store. 

Several residents voiced their concerns the incident could be gang related. "There are several gang members that reside in West Orange, but most gang members here do their business in other towns,” said Abbott.  

Buoye said he "didn't know" if the incident was gang related, but hoped there would be a "break on the case soon." He confirmed there was a video surveillance camera in the store that helped established a timeline for the incident but couldn't release a description of the clothing the suspects were wearing because the investigation is still ongoing. 

Katherine Carter, spokeswoman from the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, confirmed there are two suspects. "There were two people last seen entering the store before the incident," she told Patch.

Buoye said the Essex County Prosecutors Office is "withholding information" because of the "sensitivity of the investigation," and did not comment further. 

Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura announced Tuesday he would pay up to $5,000 in cash rewards for information that leads to the arrest of the suspects wanted in the case. 

Imposing Curfew

Shattered and frustrated by the news of the homicide, the Tuesday night forum served to highlight other concerns within The Heights community.  

"I go to Edison Elementary School and there are these kids by the tennis courts that are always drinking and smoking and doing drugs, what can you guys do to prevent that in our play area?" an 11-year-old asked the police as the room exploded in applause.

Other citizens cited mounting problems with littering on the street, groups of teens congregating on corners, broken beer and alcohol bottles sprinkled on the sidewalks and poor lighting. One woman said she was afraid of walking from her car to her home, a mere couple blocks away.   

The discussion espoused some to revisit the issue of imposing a 10 p.m. curfew. 

"It's very difficult, much to my frustration, to get a curfew in a way the courts allow it," said Parisi. He said, though, he would be willing to revisit the issue with the township council.

The room dropped to a tense silence as Brown stood up to speak. "My nephew died," he said. "I'm all for the 10 p.m. ban."

Brown said he also works at Chestnut Liquors, like his nephew. He said it's been tough for the family to displace the funeral costs. "It's so much all of a sudden," he said. Brown and Wilson's family are accepting cash or check donations in preparation for Friday's funeral that will be held in Hillside. Brown said donations can be dropped off at Chestnut Liquors.

Neighborhood Watch

Throughout the night, neighbors praised the West Orange police department, who assured the community they were "saturating" the area with marked and unmarked cars to keep the neighborhood safe and find the perpetrators. "We are out there canvassing the neighborhood everyday and engaging people," said Buoye.

One resident asked how recent police layoffs would affect police presence. "We all have to live within the budget that we have," said Buoye. The police department laid off eight officers and demoted another 16 in March to help fill a $3.4 million budget gap. Buoye assured the audience that with the demotions "we are placing the same number of police officers on the street that we had prior."

Still one resident remained wary. "I don't see you," she said. "We come to West Orange for better. I want to feel safe; I want to see you guys more." 

Parisi said the police force is active — despite layoffs and demotions.

"This is something that the government can't necessarily solve, it has to be a partnership," he said. Others echoed his sentiment and called for the formation of neighborhood watch programs.

"We need to know who our neighbors are, who our neighbor's kids are and we need to start to interact with each other," said a local woman. "We can't just rely on police."

Township council members also were present at the meeting. "So much has come out of this meeting, there's this underlying message that we keep hearing about a neighborhood watch," said West Orange Councilwoman Susan McCartney. "It's very important when you share your ideas and you educate your own community."

Many attendees — as well as township officials — said they were eager to begin garnering increased parent involvement, hosting summer block parties and extra-curricular programs for youth and establishing watch programs to help curb crime.

"It's going to take more than a two-hour meeting to capitalize on the energy here," said Parisi. "We're going to look back on this as the moment that cause a major turnaround in our community." 

Anyone with information regarding the homicide is urged to call the Essex County Prosecutor's Office tips hotline at 1-877-TIPS-7432 (1-877-847-7432) or the West Orange Police Detective Bureau at (973) 325-4000. All information will be kept confidential.

[Editor's note: This story first published April 27 at 7 a.m.]

frank gonzalez April 27, 2011 at 12:28 PM
The name of the child who asked a question was Shamik Gonzalez.
frank gonzalez April 27, 2011 at 12:37 PM
We must urge the younger generation to make these meetings. I was a little disappointed that more people around the ages of 25 and under weren't present. These are the people in the community who really need to hear and experience meetings such as last nights. Maybe the mayor would consider having another for younger people. We'll help get the word out.
Cynthia Cumming April 27, 2011 at 01:28 PM
It is apparent that the above poster was not at the meeting, but has an agenda of his own. I was at the meeting and I thought it was good to see everyone come out. If one part of the town is hurting, we all hurt. There are plenty of us that are willing to stand up for each other and our community. I'm in.
Tom G. April 27, 2011 at 02:09 PM
What's disappointing is what the cops that actually are out on the street are doing. One night last week I was waiting at the traffic light at Prospect & Eagle Rock Ave. There were 2 police cars just sitting in the parking lot of Kmart (officers appeared to be chatting). They were in the far corner of the parking lot away from the store, so it's not like they were responding to an incident at the store. The next morning I went to Shop Rite and again, there were 2 police cars sitting in the corner of the parking lot near Macy's. I understand there may have been no calls coming in at these times, but at least the officers could position themselves in the neighborhood around the Orange border to make their presence felt in this part of town that needs it most.
R.T. April 27, 2011 at 02:20 PM
I just came back yesterday from out of town and was immediately informed about this incident from my tenant. I live on Chestnut and I am just in total shock about all of this. I just purchase my home 1.5 years ago particularly in West Orange because it’s "known" as a good and safe town. Due to alternate side parking it makes it very difficult to find parking in the evenings after work. Now that this has happened it makes me and the people in my home frightened about walking home from our cars. I hate the fact that I feel scared in my own neighborhood, a neighborhood I thought I could trust when it came to these kind of crimes. I wish I could have a attended this meeting.
KB April 27, 2011 at 02:31 PM
@MAC: Officers are assigned to sectors around town. They must stay in their sectors unless they are re-deployed or assigned to a call. The WOPD must cover 12 square miles consisting of approx. 50,000 people. The taxpayers on top of the hill are entitled to police coverage as well. Officers just can't "run to the Orange border" because you want them there. Officers parking in business lots or in and around busy intersections deter crime in that area, whether they are talking to each other or not. In many years of service I have been thanked by business owners just for parking a marked patrol car in their lot for several minutes. It makes them feel more secure for that brief time. If you're not familiar with the how, when and where officers are assigned then please don't comment.
Tom G. April 27, 2011 at 02:51 PM
@KB - Yes I do understand officers need to be positioned in different parts of town to be able to respond promptly to calls. But do we really need 2 cars sitting in the exact same spot at any given time? Wouldn't 1 patrol car at Kmart be sufficient? I could understand if this was an isolated incident, but I saw this "double coverage" twice within 12 hours. I am glad all parts of town are being patrolled, but let's face it, the majority of serious crimes in town lately have occured in the neighborhoods around the Orange border. Doesn't it make sense to have that area the most heavily patrolled relative to the rest of town?
TF April 27, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Maybe if they didn't lay off cops, there could be more patrolling the Orange border, but right now there aren't enough. Call the Mayor and the Chief and suggest it.
KB April 27, 2011 at 03:36 PM
@MAC: You're now talking about adequately staffing a police dept. to service 12 sq. miles and approx. 50,000 people. The dept has been depleted from approx 119 officers to approx 94 officers. Our mandate has not changed, just our numbers. When ever a serious incident occurs we attempt to increase our presence in that area. To foolishly re-deploy from areas that aren't "being hit" exposes those areas of town to the criminal element. The top of the hill provides 2 major shopping areas (Kmart & Essex Green), several schools and major thoroughfares(Pleasant Valley Wy, Prospect Ave. N'field Ave etc.) These areas are also densley populated. What area do you propose to pull from to cover the "orange border"? Your concerns appear to be the proper staffing of our police dept. I encourage you to contact the powers that be and ask questions. I'm all for a logical debate. I don't like un-informed opinions on how to run the police dept.
Tom G. April 27, 2011 at 04:09 PM
@KB - you dodged my question. I was simply asking how it makes sense that there are 2 patrol cars sitting in the exact same spot at any given time, especially since you just said there is such a large area to patrol. Are you suggesting that the potential danger in the Kmart parking lot is so great that officers must patrol in pairs? If the patrol area is so vast, shouldn't these officers be dispersed as much as possible for adequate coverage? This is an issue of making the best use of the resources available. As a taxpayer in town I have every right to question the dept. based on my observations. There is nothing "un-informed" about my opinon.
KB April 27, 2011 at 05:07 PM
@MAC: your previous posting of "sending officers in parking lots" to the Orange border is absurd. It leaves major portions of the township at risk and uncovered by the police. How is that "informed"? Kmart and Essex Green hire officers off duty for security. Was it these officers you saw? If so their specific post is the parking lots you observed. Again, where ever a marked patrol car parks, for what ever reason, it serves as some type of physical deterent. As a taxpayer I encourage you to ask questions. Just don't pretend you know how to staff and deploy officers and fight crime based on your observations while driving home. Did I answer your question?
Tom G. April 27, 2011 at 05:38 PM
@KB - ok, thanks for answering the question. If Kmart hires 2 off duty officers to patrol the parking lot at night then that's fine. I may ask about that if I can find a manager the next time I'm in the store. But...Macy's hiring 2 officers to patrol the parking lot at 8am on a Saturday, before the store is even open, now that I have a hard time believing... Since you are encouraging me to ask questions: Have patrols been increased in the area where this particular crime took place, or would that be absurd?
Ashley April 27, 2011 at 07:59 PM
@Mac- Those cars you speak of could've been doing any number of things. Just because they were parked in a lot doesn't mean they were doing anything wrong. You automatically assume two cars parked door-to-door is a clear sign of something nefarious or negligent going on. Perhaps one officer, to save time and keep a car in service, went to get coffee and/or breakfast and was distributing it to his partner. Maybe one of them had to cover a crossing at a school and didnt get a chance to find some nourishment. Maybe it was a senior officer giving a pointer to a junior officer. Something wrong with that? Maybe it was two cars coming back from a call for service and they're dissecting the service (what did they do well? what can they do better? what would they do differently?). Maybe one of them had some intel they wanted to share? Etc. Etc. Etc. You have no idea what was going on. Don't jump to conclusions because it isn't always what it looks like.
scc April 27, 2011 at 08:19 PM
I am all for a curfew on young people. If the parents don't have the sense to keep their kids off the streets at night let the citizens do it.
Mark Gruen April 27, 2011 at 08:51 PM
What ever happened to municipal cooperation? Has West Orange's difficulties with Orange's new mayor Hawkins poisoned the well? Hawkins lived here and worked WOPD until gaining office in Orange. How about enlisting some additional support from Orange PD. If West Orange is unwilling or unable to singularly take on this advancing criminal activity, I would hope that a collaborative effort could make a positive difference. It only makes sense that Montclair, Orange, West Orange, and East Orange work more closely together in "troubled areas" that border all of our neighborhoods.
Steve DeRosa April 28, 2011 at 12:17 AM
Oh boy what a crock of crap is being spewed here by alot of MISINFORMED people. KB has the facts straight but what he failed to say was is this The reason cops sit in lots is because that is also our job too. Kmart hires a police officer and has since it became Kmart and when it was Cladors 7 days a week from 430 pm till 1030 mon thru friday and from 230 till 1030 sat and sun. Essex Green is ordered by the Town to hire off duty officers to keep it safe 7 days a week with varying hours from 6pm till 0200 hrs every day of the week. Your rite aids and CVS lots also hire Police Officers to patrol their lots also. SO if you dont like what you see Mac why dont you next time go see what their doing and ask them if they are there for a reason. OR maybe they are a Sgt or LT checking on their men or going over reports or even better discussing a job that they were just on or relaying important information. So next time before you get your panties in a bunch think of how many times a day you stop and talk to a co worker too at your job ??? Guess what us cops are human and we like to talk to people too and we even eat and go to take a pee too !!! So there ya have it Now you have the facts Old saying facts before you act!!!! Stephen De Rosa Retired WOPD
PAW April 28, 2011 at 09:21 PM
I feel bad for WOPD. They are getting hit from every side. Our once quiet hamlet is being saturated with a criminal element that has migrated from neighboring urban cities. Most of us moved to West Orange because it is/was the best of the best. We have the best schools, teachers, fire department, police department and residents. Most of us have watched in horror as the climate has changed in our township. I have run many(would be thugs) off of our block and will continue to do so. I have contacted landlords who allow their tenants to do whatever they thought they could because the owner of the property did not live nearby. As longtime residents of the township, we have to be the additional eyes and ears of law enforcement. They cannot be everywhere all of the time. They do a fantastic job considering layoffs, demotions and cutbacks. Times are changing. The climate of township people has changed. We are still of community of caring, hardworking people who still want the best for our families.
Lori April 28, 2011 at 11:11 PM
I would have to agree. I think this would be better 'questioned' if the police officers had been spotted for a lengthy amount of time. I've noticed it before (I live real close to that shopping center). However, when going to shoprite, my experience has been that I might see two cop cars in the lot parked side-by-side on my way to the store....but most of the time I have witnessed this, by the time I come out, one or both cars are no longer there. Just sharing what I've seen. It may help Mac understand the Essex Green Shopping Center a little better. These meetings (or whatever they are) always seem very brief...unless their lights are on and they are dealing with a situation at the moment.
Cynthia Cumming April 29, 2011 at 01:57 AM
PAW is right. This is OUR town and we live here with our families and want the best for them and each other. We need to look out for each other and support the police in their efforts to protect us.
GC May 01, 2011 at 06:50 PM
There is an officer assigned to the parking lot of Kmart at night. So thats why there was an officer there. Would you like to sit there for 5 or so hours by yourself not being able to talk to anyone. Thats why they were conversing.
WO is the new EO May 02, 2011 at 08:31 PM
WO is now a straight up hood
Maureen May 03, 2011 at 01:34 AM
That may be true of downtown WO, not so for " up the hill" it's still as lovely as ever all be it a bit over crowded!
Cynthia Cumming May 03, 2011 at 01:37 AM
It is not true of 'down the hill' either... crime is a reality in urban and suburban communities. This neighborhood will rebound from this and hopefully, become even stronger. They need support, not criticism.
Elizabeth Oates May 04, 2011 at 12:08 AM
Up the hill or down the hill what difference does it make? Someone was killed... Ignorance is at an all time high in this comment thread... Who really cares where you live do you really think violence won't strike close to home "up the hill"? Well, keep living....
Cynthia Cumming May 04, 2011 at 12:14 AM
Elizabeth, the residents present at the meeting were caring neighbors and families. People have incorrect perceptions about the different areas in town, but you are right... we are all for the most part good people working hard, raising our families, and wanting to feel safe.
Sam April 23, 2012 at 04:13 PM
I grew up in West Orange up the hill - and I moved out about 20 years ago and visit once in a while. I can tell you as a teenager I was afraid going down the hill. My friends homes were robbed on several occasions and another was mugged across from Colgate park. It was terrible 20 years ago - why people are shocked that it is even worse now is beyond me. Unless a major refurbishment takes place down the hill you will get an element that most people do not want. There was a bar every 10 feet down the hill west orange - that also brings in an unwanted element. The cops were corrupt back then - no clue how they are now but unless there was a major shakeup I assume it is much of the same. There is a huge difference between up the hill and down the hill - sorry but it is true. Up the hill is not bordered by East Orange and Orange. There are not bars on every corner - it is a more suburban area than down the hill. There was a huge divide when I was in Mountain Highschool. It is what it is - to pretend it is not is ridiculous. My parents taxes when they sold their home in 2002 were 15k a year. I know the houses down the hill paid less in taxes. Most of the crime and resources go to the down the hill area, yet up the hill foots most of the taxes. It is what it is. Down the hill West Orange needs an overhaul - kind of like Long Branch did. Get rid of the bars - redo the shopping areas, have some developers come in and redo the area. It can happen and needs to,
Sam April 23, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Cynthia with all due respect it is very true of down the hill. The neioghborhood was bad 20 years ago when I lived there - I was afraid to park my car and walk into my girlfriends house when we came home at 2 or 3 in the morning - I was never afraid in my own neighborhood up the hill. It was a completely different environment - to pretend it is not is silly.
Sam April 23, 2012 at 04:21 PM
The point is Elizabeth that some areas are more violent than others, have a higher crime rate - down the hill has been a bad area for many. many years and it won't change unless there is a huge refurbishment to that area. Those are the facts. I get that the people that live there love it as it is there home. There are people in Camden. Trenton, Orange, and Long Branch that loved it too. Long Branch got a fabulous refurbishment and is once again a nice place to go. I can't imagine anyone who doesn't live down the hill wanting to go there to spend a day do anything.
anto August 23, 2012 at 07:10 PM


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