The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office is the hosting component of the Essex Narcotics Task Force. The Task Force was organized in 1987 as a multi-jurisdictional operation, and is responsible for the investigation of middle and upper level narcotics distribution cases. The Task Force approach resulted from the Statewide Action Plan for Narcotics Enforcement of 1987, which set forth a comprehensive approach to attack the drug abuse epidemic. The publication of the Attorney General’s 1993 Statewide Narcotics Action Plan recognized that diverse approaches to this crisis were necessary to continue a coordinated, cooperative and comprehensive approach to drug law enforcement. Certain areas of Essex County contain both a relatively large distributor population and a significant user population. The most commonly sold and abused drugs in Essex County continue to be heroin, cocaine (including crack), and marijuana. Within the past decade, drug traffickers in Essex County have resorted more frequently to the use of violence to further their criminal operations. Therefore, the Task Force approach is now targeted at middle and upper level drug traffickers in Essex County, as opposed to short-term investigations aimed at lower level traffickers.
The increased involvement of organized youth gangs in narcotics related activities in Essex County over the past few years has resulted in a high level of interaction between members of the Prosecutor’s Gang Intelligence Unit and members of the Narcotics Task Force. As a result of this interaction and in order to efficiently maximize limited resources, former Acting Prosecutor Campolo merged the Gang Intelligence Unit into the Narcotics Task Force in October 2001.
In 2008, as part of the Governor’s Crime Strategy Plan, the Gang Intelligence Unit was merged with the Narcotics Task Force to become the V.I.P.E.R. Unit (Violence Interdiction/Intelligence Prosecution Eradication Recidivism Unit). In 2012, this unit in turn was renamed the ECPO Narcotics/Gang Task Force. This task force, which operates both daytime and evening shifts, targets and prioritizes the most violent offender zones; gathers intelligence of confiscated firearms and enters ballistics into the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network (NIBIN System); coordinates intelligence led policing strategies in cease fire grid areas with Newark and Irvington law enforcement officials; and conducts warrant roundups of wanted targets of gang violence, narcotics and firearm offenses in high crime ridden areas. In addition, the Narcotics/Gang Task Force coordinates daily with the Newark and East Orange Police Intelligence Units, the Essex County Corrections Department, neighboring outside police departments, and other County Prosecutors’ violent drug and gang task forces.
The prosecutors of the Narcotics/Gang Task Force vertically prosecute all cases initiated by Task Force detectives. The Narcotics/Gang prosecutors also review all narcotics and gang-related search warrants and provide legal advice to outside law enforcement agencies on the narcotics and gang issues. In 2010, Task Force prosecutors reviewed over 700 search warrants.
The ECPO Narcotics/Gang Task Force is partially supported by federal grant funds administered by the State of New Jersey. The Task Force is staffed, at present time, by County Detectives led by a Lieutenant, other state and local law enforcement officers, an Assistant Prosecutor/Director, three Assistant Prosecutors, and clerical support staff. The Unit is engaged in long term undercover operations targeting upper level drug dealers. In addition, the Unit conducts street level initiatives in Irvington, East Orange and Orange that are geared toward improving quality of life in designated high narcotics crime areas of those municipalities. The Unit also interacts with the DEA, U.S. Customs, U.S. Postal Inspectors and the Port Authority Police in order to interdict drugs being transported through Newark Airport and by means of the mail and private package delivery services.
In 2014, the Unit initiated 1,191 investigations, culminating in 1,337 arrests. The investigations resulted in the seizure of over 1,054 grams of cocaine, i.e., approximately 1 kilogram of cocaine, more than 1,269 grams of heroin and more than 128,211 grams of marijuana. NTF investigations also resulted in the seizure of 11 ounces of crystal methamphetamine/pcp, 151 ecstasy pills and a large quantity of prescription drugs. The approximate street value of the narcotics seized by the Unit in 2014 is $47,434 for cocaine, $317,432 for heroin, and $1,282,118 for marijuana. NTF personnel also seized over $174,956 in currency from drug distributors in 2014.
Additionally, given the increase in violent crime in Essex County, removal of illegal firearms from the streets is a very important step in law enforcement’s efforts to reduce violent crime. NTF personnel seized 30 firearms in 2014, including six assault firearms. This number is significant given that the Unit operates with a relatively small number of personnel. The Unit also obtained and executed more than 84 search warrants in 2014.
During the summer of 2014, NTF was instrumental in the Attorney General’s TIDE/TAG initiative. This program was conducted in conjunction with the Newark Police, New Jersey State Police and other law enforcement agencies. It served as a multi disciplinary strategy that put additional officers on the street in Newark’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods.
The areas that were the focus of the TIDE/TAG initiative experienced gun violence, homicides, open-air narcotics trafficking and other quality of life offenses. The TIDE/TAG initiative focused on aggressively prosecuting criminals who committed these offenses. TIDE/TAG resulted in hundreds of arrests and prosecutions over the summer months, and resulted in an overall decrease in violence over the same time period.
Operation Joint Effort was a three-month investigation into a heroin distribution ring that involved 26 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. A total of 33 suspects were charged, and over 14 locations were searched in three New Jersey counties. The result was the seizure of over $200,000 in heroin, $70,000 in cash and multiple motor vehicles.
Over the course of the investigation, the suspects were estimated to have sold more than a million dollars worth of heroin to buyers from as far as Pennsylvania. During this investigation, NTF utilized wire taps, surveillance cameras, confidential informants, narcotics canines, and numerous search and surveillance techniques. Operation Joint Effort represents a major success by NTF in effectuating narcotics interdiction in the State of New Jersey.
During April 2014, NTF initiated an investigation in the city of Newark that resulted in the recovery of 2,601 glassine envelopes of heroin with an approximate street value of $26,000, a semi-automatic handgun and numerous rounds of ammunition.
During July 2014, NTF initiated an investigation in the city of Newark that resulted in the recovery of 1,100 glassine envelopes of heroin and 255 vials of cocaine with an approximate street value of $13,500, a TEC-9 machine gun and $612 in cash.
GANG INTELLIGENCE: One mission of the Narcotics/Gang Task Force is to gather intelligence on gang activity and identify gang members in Essex County. The Intelligence section of the Task Force serves as a free-standing unit, consisting of a lieutenant and detectives that collects and analyzes criminal information and data. This process is extremely beneficial in identifying criminal organizations in Essex County and also in determining criminal trends. This criminal intelligence is disseminated to the other investigative units of the Prosecutor’s Office and other Essex County law enforcement agencies.
The three largest gangs operating in Essex County are the The Bloods, The Crips, and The Almighty Latin King Nation (Latin Kings, ALKQN). There are also a number of other Latin gangs, namely the Netas, MS-13, “Trinitarios” and “Dominicans Don’t Play” (DDP). The Bloods and the Crips consist of numerous “sets” or “sub-groups.” Essex County law enforcement has identified several “Super-Gangs” within the County. Within the Crips, the “Super-Gangs” are the: Grape Street, Hoover 52, Hoover 74, Rolling 60′s and Playboy sets. The “Super-Gangs” within the Bloods include the 793, G-shine, Brick City Brims, 464 Mob Insane Mob Piru, 662 MOB Piru, 252 SMM and Double II sets. Criminal intelligence developed by Task Force detectives has indicated that there are a number of conflicts between rival Bloods sets. These conflicts often result in violence.
There are approximately 3200 documented gang members in Essex County. Gang membership also appears to be increasing annually. The lure of fast cash and the protection afforded by gang membership are among the reasons for increase in gang membership. The glamorization of gang life in popular culture and mass media outlets (films, music etc.) is also a contributing factor in gang membership.
The main gang-related criminal activity in Essex County is the distribution of narcotics. “Drug-dealing” is a cash business and lure fast cash entices a number of younger citizens to join gangs. The cash generated from narcotics distribution is also used for bail money and attorneys fees by gang members. There are a number of “open-air” drug markets within Essex County and the easy accessibility to the major cities provides a strong customer base. Drug areas are controlled by various gang sets and violence often occurs when a rival gang attempts to move into another gang’s territory. Home invasion robberies, extortion, mortgage fraud and the sale of counterfeit DVDs, CDs and clothing are other areas of criminal activity perpetrated by criminal street gangs in Essex County. Gang members will often “launder” the proceeds of these illegal activities into “seemingly” legitimate businesses.