UPDATED: 3:24 p.m.
There are renewed concerns over safety along the Hoboken Waterfront as questions linger about a number of drownings and disappearances in the Hudson River over the past few years.
Last week, Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante addressed some of those concerns in a statement. Among his points was the assertion that, “there are no current threats to the public regarding the waterfront and there has not been over the past 8 years, and there is no ‘smiley face serial killers‘ throwing people in the river in Hoboken.”
Nevertheless, residents remain alarmed by the occurrences along the Hudson.
“While I have the utmost confidence in the Hoboken Police Department and our County law enforcement partners,” said Hoboken Councilman Michael DeFusco, “I do share some of the concerns raised by residents regarding safety on the Waterfront.”
The “Smiley Face Killer” theory referenced by Ferrante—which has prompted a lot of social media conversations on the topic of waterfront safety—maintains that a network of killers is operating across the Northeast and Midwest, targeting males in their mid 20’s after a night out, and results in their disappearance and/or recovery near bodies of water. In Hoboken’s case, the 2014 disappearance and eventual recovery of the body of 27-year old Hoboken bank employee Andrew Jarzyk, the death of 24-year old finance worker Matthew Genovese in 2016, the death of 23-year old college student Anthony Urena and others have fuel that speculation. Most recently, the body of 27 year-old Jaime Kwebetchou was recovered in the water off Pier A in Hoboken. His was the second body recovered in that part of the Hudson River that week.
These events have prompted many in the community to demand better waterfront surveillance, in the form of cameras, to answer questions about the circumstances in which individuals enter the water.
“The loss of any life is devastating and the effects can be felt in our community. Any resource that positively assists police, makes residents feel safe or can save a life is invaluable to our community,” said DeFusco. “I have spoken to Mayor [Ravi] Bhalla about making funding for these projects a priority and I am confident that by working together with the City Council we will bring these much needed safety investments to the Waterfront.”
DeFusco’s plan is to introduce a resolution that will propose-allocate a portion of the “community givebacks” that are to be generated from the restructuring of the Hilton Hotel project, for a state-of-the-art surveillance system.
Hoboken City Spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri tells hMAG that, “Mayor Bhalla is glad that Councilman DeFusco is concerned about security, and agrees for the need for the appropriate surveillance along our waterfront. However, the Councilman is being disingenuous as he and his Council colleagues are at the same time making six-figure cuts to the Hoboken Police Department budget, with $10,000 in cuts to service agreements which includes the monitoring of this very type of surveillance technology.”
In 2014, after Andrew Jarzyk disappeared, the City voted to replace the defunct waterfront cameras—awarding a $177,000 contract to Millennium Communications Group, which was paid for by a Port Security Grant under then-Public Safety Director John Tooke, which remain operational.
“That $177,000 paid for seven cameras,” Ferrante told hMAG, “which is why I state government cameras cost in the tens of thousands each. Seven cameras covers a small portion of the 1.3 mile waterfront.”
Currently, the cameras are located on the southern and central Hoboken Waterfront. “They are good during the day and not too good at night,” said Ferrante. “It’s tough to see after a distance of 100-150 feet.”
Meanwhile, the addition of cameras would not prevent individuals from entering the water. They are more of an investigatory tool after the tragedy has taken place.
Said Ferrante in his statement last week, “The Hudson County Prosecutors Office handle all death investigations. Most times, they turn the case back over to [Hoboken Police]. In cases where the incident is deemed suicide, that is not put out to the public for several reasons; 1) sensitivity and confidentiality with the next of kin, 2) we cannot disclose mental illness publicly, 3) human decency to help the family deal with something tragic and life altering to them, which inquiring minds don’t take into account.”
Yet in the absence of fact, speculation runs rampant. Social media has a tendency to fuel that speculation, as theories are exchanged and extrapolated upon.
As questions circulated about past incidents, in February of 2016 hMAG met with Kevin Gannon—a retired NYPD detective and author who has worked diligently on the Smiley Face Killer cases. Gannon joined hMAG Publisher Christopher Halleron on a walking tour of Pier A to look for any evidence in the aftermath of Genovese’s death. While Gannon remains suspicious that there may be a connection between incidents elsewhere, at the time he did not feel the urge to pursue any direct connection to the events in Hoboken.
In regards to the death of Kwebetchou, “that matter as it is still under Investigation by the Hudson County Prosecutors Office,” said Ferrante in his statement last week. “They update me on this almost daily. I cannot disclose that to the public and I only disclose info to our interested investigative parties so that the information does not leak out. I will assure you, at this time, there are no threats to the public waterfront and if at any time in the future, one does arise, I would immediately let the public know and increase our waterfront deployments.”
***UPDATE (1:13 p.m)—Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante has responded specifically to Councilman DeFusco’s statement:
“I have just seen Councilman DeFusco’s press release from earlier today. Law enforcement agencies always welcome more funding for cameras because sometimes they are able to answer questions and at times help with identifying suspects in various situations. Cameras used for law enforcement are very expensive. The seven waterfront cameras purchased with a grant in 2013 cost $177,000 and annually we incur some $10-20,000 in data storage costs and maintenance and service agreement costs. That is just for seven cameras. However, that is for the City Administration and City Council to determine when it comes to priorities in a municipal budget. Citizens also need to realize that cameras don’t stop some situations on the waterfront. The 15-20 incidents of individuals that went into the Hudson River over the past 8 years were all proven to be voluntary entries into the river for several reasons including: intoxication, dares, rescues, individuals under the influence of drugs, we had an incident of a woman jumping in the River thinking a teddy bear was a baby, and unfortunately we have had a few that were suicide attempts. The incident with the Baltimore resident’s death is still under investigation by the Hudson County Prosecutors Office. The other incident was a Jersey City Exchange Place incident where the individual entered the River in Jersey City and was unfortunately found dead there. There is also a report that still shows up on the Internet of an individual being thrown into the water during the 2014 Leprecon. Several hours after the incident, it was determined that the individual made a false report to police and voluntarily entered the river. Again, while always looking forward to receiving funding for cameras, I have told the City Council in closed session last year, there are four prime locations in the City where I would like to add cameras before adding more on the waterfront due to data analysis of our crimes, volumes and severity of them, discussions with the Hudson County Prosecutors Office and the fact, that while they are terrible incidents when individuals go into the water, it only happens a couple times per year so cost analysis needs to be done. However, if some agreement is made between the City Council, the Administration and any other parties involving additional waterfront cameras, I definitely welcome it and support it.”
***UPDATE (3:24 p.m.)—Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher responds to Hoboken City Spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri’s comments:
I think Councilman DeFusco’s idea is a great, and fiscally responsible one as we have to consider new benefits that have a nexus with the hotel project. It’s unfortunate that Vijay once again is being dishonest and using petty politics. The Hoboken Police Department saw a minor cut in funding
approved accepted* by Chief Ferrante, the majority of which related to the delayed purchase of new motorcycles with the remainder non specific to be allocated by HPD.
***UPDATE (3:24 p.m.)—Chief Ferrante responds to Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher’s comments (via Twitter):
I need to make a correction to an update in this article. The $105,000 budget cut from the @HobokenPD O/E and MC purchases and turned over to the @HobokenFire salary line was NOT approved by me, and our dept and residents need to know that. My Budget incl. a 5.6% O/E reduction… https://t.co/waNONWcK7s
— Chief Ken Ferrante (@KenFerrante) May 28, 2019
(Click for full thread…)
*Edit at Councilwoman Fisher’s request, following discussions with Chief Ferrante.