Homicide rate vexing for A.C. tourism

Atlantic City police on patrol to prevent homeless people from loitering on the Boardwalk. Most of the killings this year have taken place away from casino and shopping areas. The patrols are part of a effort to improve safety at the resort.
Atlantic City police on patrol to prevent homeless people from loitering on the Boardwalk. Most of the killings this year have taken place away from casino and shopping areas. The patrols are part of a effort to improve safety at the resort. (WAYNE PARRY / AP)
Posted: October 09, 2012

ATLANTIC CITY - For this resort, struggling to keep gamblers - and their money - coming, May 21 was one of the worst days in years.

That morning, two Canadian tourists, an 80-year-old woman and her daughter, 47, were knifed to death on a sidewalk across from one of the casinos, allegedly by a schizophrenic homeless woman from Philadelphia.

The stabbings of Po Lin Wan and Alice Mei See Leung of Scarborough, Ontario, were among 15 homicides in the city so far this year, though they were the only two involving tourists. The tally already has surpassed the total for 2011 and is approaching the all-time high of 18 in 2006.

The stakes could not be higher for the city, which is dealing with a nearly six-year plunge in casino revenue and the loss of thousands of jobs, even as it tries to reinvent itself as a multifaceted resort that happens to have casinos.

Complicating matters is the good news/bad news involvement of Gov. Christie's administration. The state has given more resources and oversight to Atlantic City's tourist areas, but set a five-year limit for the reforms to start working before it considers expanding casino gambling to the Meadowlands in North Jersey and to the state's four horse-racing tracks.

The message to potential visitors from William Glass, the city's public-safety director, is simple and urgent.

"We want you here. We need you here. This city is safe," he said. "Your interests and well-being when you're here is of paramount importance to us."

Not everyone is getting the message. Attilio and Joanne Oliva of Westchester County, N.Y., have traveled to Atlantic City for more than 30 years. They don't stray far from the casinos.

"We won't go into the city at all," Joanne Oliva said. "The other day, I walked a couple blocks to go to church, and that was a mistake. There were lots of undesirables hanging around."

Most of the 15 killings this year have taken place away from the casino and shopping areas. One involved an infant allegedly shaken to death by his mother's boyfriend.

More common were deaths such as that of Jose Ortiz, who rode his bicycle into the cross fire of two young men blasting away at each other Sept. 6 at a public-housing project about six blocks west of the casinos. The 59-year-old was known for routinely eating only half the food on his plate and giving the rest to the homeless in a nearby park.

"There is a lot of violence in Atlantic City," said his niece, Cheska Martinez. She said the complex where her uncle was gunned down "is a free-for-all. . . . [And] nobody wants to snitch because they don't want to be next.

"It's senseless. It's kids killing each other," Martinez said. "That's what it is in Atlantic City. But if we don't speak, how do you expect things to get any better?"

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