Newark ups protection for Booker
Jailhouse informant tells of plot to kill mayor-elect

Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

Newark police yesterday started providing round-the-clock security for mayor-elect Cory Booker in response to an alleged death threat.

Police are investigating whether the threat is legitimate and are scrutinizing the source -- an in mate held in the Essex County Jail on weapons charges, who passed along the information in conversations last week with corrections officers.

Newark Police Director An thony Ambrose said he wants the informant to continue collecting information about the alleged threat. He also ordered his officers to give the informant a lie-detector test, a common method for determining the credibility of police sources. The test was given Sunday, but the results are not yet available.

Outgoing Mayor Sharpe James, who ordered the new security detail Friday night, said in a statement yesterday that he was "committed to a safe and orderly transition" between his administration and Booker's. But James said he found it unusual that Booker asked for his detail to include "political supporters" on the police department who aren't among a team of officers trained in "executive dignitary protection."

The members of Booker's new detail were receiving a "crash course" in dignitary protection yesterday, Ambrose said.

'This decision was not political," Booker spokeswoman Sakina Cole said. "The officers Cory requested have been part of his detail for months. He is familiar with them and confident in their abilities."

Booker, meanwhile, used the alleged threats yesterday to stress his crime-fighting agenda. During an appearance to mark the start of Pride Week for gays and lesbians, Booker promised a crackdown on gangs and asked for help from the courts, clergy and social service agencies for programs that will keep kids from joining gangs in the first place.

"The mission here is not to protect the mayor, but to protect every resident," Booker said on the steps of the Essex County Courthouse. "I'll make security the number one issue in the city of Newark. It's not just law enforcement's job. We need resources to offer opportunity and hope."

"My hope is in a year or two, every resident feels as safe and secure as I do," Booker said. James ordered a security detail for Booker after the jailhouse informant told gang investigators on Thursday about an alleged conspiracy within the Bloods street gang to kill Booker, according to an investigation report obtained by The Star-Ledger.

The informant, whom authorities have refused to identify, said the gang had obtained an AR-15 assault rifle equipped with a silencer to carry out the hit. According to the report, the alleged plot stems from a fear among the Bloods that drug activity in the city will be interrupted when Booker takes office.

The investigators relayed the information to Newark police, who started their investigation.

Police have said they have checked out similar threats against Booker and found no "conclusive evidence."

One of those threats came earlier last week, when the State Police got word of a potential at tack on Booker and told Newark police. According to two law enforcement sources close to the investigation, the further questioning of the jailhouse informant revealed that he is the same person who talked to the State Police.

In response to the threats against him, Booker sought extra security from local authorities. After his May 9 election win, the Essex County Sheriff's Department posted a single patrol car outside Booker's home in the Brick Towers housing complex on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for several hours each evening.

Newark police took over that security at noon yesterday. Round-the-clock coverage will last at least until Booker is inaugurated July 1. Ambrose ordered the security coverage to include not only his public appearances but patrols and rooftop checks around Brick Towers.

If history is any guide, Booker will continue to receive police security after he takes office. But police officials said yesterday that he is free to decide what kind of security he wants as mayor.