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Police Stepping Up Patrols, Technology After Normally Safe Paterson, N.J. Park Becomes Scene Of Violence

PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A rise in crime in one of Paterson's premier parks has authorities taking action.

The latest incident happened just this week as two teenagers were shot, and the gunshots were fired close to where little kids were playing baseball.

As CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported Tuesday, the mayor believes the coronavirus pandemic may partly be to blame.

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For Frisco Vassor and his 4-year-old son, Eastside Park is the perfect place to play.

"It's a safe environment to be around," Vassor said.

But he was stunned to hear two people were shot near the park's baseball fields as games were going on. Tino Rexach is vice president of the youth baseball league.

"Imagine being an 8- or 9-year-old listen to a gun shot and not knowing what it is until an adult tells you... run!" Rexach said.

"I don't see any park personnel roaming the park. I don't see any police. I don't see anything," Paterson resident Alan Parker said.

Paterson police say that's changing, following more disruptive behavior in the area.

"Six-foot speakers, lounge chairs. Drinking, hookah pipes. That's not what this park was made for and designed for, and we will not have that behavior. It is over," Paterson Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale said.

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Police joined Mayor Andre Sayegh and public works in announcing stepped-up security in Eastside Park, including more police grounded in and patrolling around the park, limited access to cars and, soon, more security cameras.

Starting in mid-June, Paterson will also start using a new high-tech system called Eye-911. People who call 911 will automatically be sent to one central dispatch center in the city. The operator will then send the caller a link. When the caller clicks on the link, audio and video from the caller's phone can be seen and heard by the dispatchers and responding officers.

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The new safety measures come as the city reaches its 44th shooting of the year, a number it didn't see until July of 2020. The mayor said the pandemic is partly to blame.

"The borders were closed and the drugs weren't coming in. So the demand was high but the supply was low, and they were ripping each other off and resorting to shooting," Sayegh said.

With the city promising zero tolerance, one local resident said, "I'll believe it when I see it."

But everyone is hoping the park will soon regain its reputation as a safe place.

Passaic County prosecutors say the two 18-year-old men shot in Eastside Park on Monday remain in critical condition. So far, there have been no arrests.

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