TRENTON - Authorities in New Jersey converged on almost every county in the state over the last six months to shut down violent gangs, curtail illegal drug sales and get guns off the streets.
Yesterday, law-enforcement officials converged on the state capital to offer up some big numbers as a result of the county takedowns and to reiterate that their job isn't finished.
"Let me put the drug dealers and the gun traffickers on notice: We are in this for the long haul," Attorney General Anne Milgram said at a morning news conference.
The operation, part of Gov. Jon S. Corzine's "Strategy for Safe Streets and Neighborhoods," has resulted in the arrest of 1,844 on charges that include murder and drug trafficking.
Many suspects had ties to the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, MS-13 and Nietas, historically the largest organized gangs in the state, authorities said.
The operation also confiscated more than $4 million in illegal drugs, $857,769 in cash, and 162 weapons.
The two largest efforts, Milgram said, were in the city of Camden and in rural Salem County, where 249 suspects were arrested, most of those in the town of Salem.
Camden's takedown netted 306 arrests, from drug buyers to violent gang members - and even a female police dispatcher accused of conspiracy to commit murder.
In Camden, where local gangs intermingle with larger organizations like the Bloods, taking so many criminals, guns and drugs off the streets could stir more violence as others try to fill the ranks, authorities said.
"We definitely don't want to create a vacuum," said Josh Ottenberg, Camden County acting first assistant prosecutor. "People will try to come in and take control. We've been particularly careful about that."
Camden's homicide rate, which was on a record pace in the summer, has slowed in recent months. Last Wednesday, a 20-year-old city man was shot dead in daylight in a neighborhood known for drugs. That was the 48th homicide this year in Camden.
Statewide, Milgram said, violent crimes continue to drop, as they did last year. In the first nine months of 2008, overall violent crime in the state dropped by 7 percent.
Milgram said that violent gang members have two options in New Jersey - prison or death. But she said that the state is working on prevention programs for children and more comprehensive re-entry programs to curb recidivism.
"It will be a constant and continuous fight," Milgram said.
Matthew Horace, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive's special agent in charge in New Jersey, said that because of the state's strict gun laws, there's a good chance that the 162 weapons, which included 22 assault weapons, had not come from within the state.