NEWARK, NJ – Public safety officials on Monday praised a decline in the city’s violent crime rate despite a recent uptick in homicides while highlighting one of Newark’s key perpetual problems – juvenile offenders and victims.

The most recent case involving a juvenile was the arrest on Sunday of a 12-year-old who was carrying a 9mm semi automatic rifle, Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose told reporters.

Ambrose said he was troubled when he got the call about the arrest due to the suspect’s age. But he also took time to stress that shooting and homicide statistics are on a “down swing.”

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“The city is not on fire as some people are saying,” Ambrose said. “It’s nothing new to us in inner cities and in the city of Newark that during the summer, violence does peak.”

This summer, the city had seven homicides, five of which occurred over the last week. Ambrose said two juveniles are among the perpetrators police are investigating.

Some of the victims injured and killed in Newark this month were also under the age of 18.

In an attempt to curb violence committed by and involving youths, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said his agency would partner with the Newark Police Department to fund programs aimed, in part, at breaking the cycle of victims seeking retaliation.

“What if we could reach those young people who come into our hospitals with gunshot wounds and offer them an alternative?” Grewal said.

Officials said homicides were down by 23 percent compared to last year, or 10 fewer homicides compared to this time in 2018 bringing this year’s total to 34. Ambrose has said the only homicide the city had in July was a domestic stabbing.

Since July, 26 juveniles were arrested for violent crimes in addition to eight for being in stolen cars. Ambrose said the percentage of total crimes committed by juveniles compared to last year has stayed relatively the same.

Ambrose also touted having 50 days of summer without a homicide with the caveat that it shouldn’t be seen as a “victory lap.”

“It’s not about the reductions, it’s about less victims and we are seeing less victims,” Ambrose said.