NEWARK, NJ - Property and violent crime in Newark is down 15 percent from last year, and city officials say it is due to more community policing and collaborative work with local, state and federal authorities.

Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said 2018's numbers show the lowest dip in crime in 50 years. Crime has steadily decreased since 2013, according to data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report and numbers for 2017 and 2018 provided by the Newark Police Division.

“Even though we have the lowest crime in five decades, we still have a long journey ahead of us,” Ambrose said yesterday at a press conference to announce the new data. “But we're better and we're safer than we were last year and we're definitely safer than we were in 1987, when we had 40,000 crime victims versus only 8,000 last year.”

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There were 72 homicides in 2018 compared 69 in the year prior, a decrease of 3 percent, according to data provided by the city's police division. Ambrose said there were 101 fewer shooting victims this year, down from 337 last year. 

However, Ambrose said, assaults with other weapons like knives have risen, with a 10 percent hike in knife assaults between 2017 and 2018. Rapes also increased from 140 to 165, according to city data. The rise in rapes was due in part to changes in the way FBI's Uniform Crime Report classifies the offense, Ambrose said.

The most recent Uniform Crime Report has only been finalized for 2016 and reflects data from all submitting agencies, explained New Jersey State Police Captain Brian Polite. Preliminary UCR data for 2017 and 2018 has not yet been finalized, which may explain differences in the city's numbers. 

For a city once known by many as the capital of stolen cars in New Jersey, carjackings have decreased from 142 to 62 between 2017 and 2018, Ambrose said. Automobile theft has also decreased from 2,335 to 1,951 between the same time frame.  

The announcement was by no means a “victory lap” for Mayor Ras Baraka, who said victims or families who have been affected by crime may feel that nothing is changing. Still, the numbers showed that the city’s efforts have been reducing crime more and more.

“We have a long, long, long way to go,” said Baraka, who was first elected mayor in 2014. “So we're not having a party here. This is not a victory lap. What we are saying though, is that we've made a tremendous, tremendous leap.”

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Local officials were joined by others, including Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens II, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, and U.S. District Attorney Craig Carpenito.

There are 1,150 police officers in Newark, Ambrose said, and some of the most violent offenders are arrested with the help of the other agencies, including the New Jersey State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Collaborations such as Operation Summer in the City led of the arrest of 160 people in some of New Jersey's largest cities, including Newark. Fifty people were arrested in Newark during the operation, Grewal said.

“With today's announcement, as the mayor alluded to, we sent a strong message that all of us on this stage are committed to working collaboratively to reducing crime -- not just in Newark -- but across the State of New Jersey,” Grewal said, later adding that "the future of this city is bright."

Carpenito, the U.S. District Attorney, said Newark is a different city from 1997, when he began working here. He credited the transformation to the collaboration between agencies and Ambrose, the city’s public safety director, who he called a “national treasure." 

“When people sit around that table, it doesn't matter what it says on your shirt,” Carpenito said of the teamwork that occurs inside the city’s Police-Fire Communications Center. “It doesn't matter what your lapel pin is. Nobody cares about their egos. Nobody cares who gets the credit. They share information and they share it willingly and they share it selflessly.”

The mayor said 180 new officers have been added to the city’s police department since he took office. Eighty-two new police officers were sworn in last month too. 

The city has been able to afford the new officers after seeing increased revenue from payroll taxes, the mayor said.  Officers have also been retiring, who are at higher-pay scales.

Ambrose and Baraka noted that the police interact more with the community, yet complaints have gone down against the police department. It’s a far cry from the days before the city entered in a consent decree in 2016 after a federal review found the police department had a pattern of unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests.

The consent decree between the U.S. Justice Department and the city put a monitor in place to oversee improvements within the police department. Baraka said new policy has been written for the department, and the city is now training officers to match.

Baraka also credited the decrease in crime on programs such as the Newark Community Street Team, which has outreach workers that intervene in street disputes. The city has also begun rolling out a Hope One Newark Mobile Unit, which gives those struggling with drug addiction access to mental health and rehabilitation services.

“I think when people feel good about the police department, they're more apt to report crimes that are taking place in their neighborhood because they feel a part of the police and not victimized by the police,” Baraka said.

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