The number of homicides in Newark fell to its lowest level in a decade, though the city's overall crime rate rose 3 percent, according to a year-end summary released by the administration of Mayor Ras Baraka.
Homicides fell 28 percent, robberies dropped 26 percent while the number of guns recovered increased 23 percent compared to 2016, according to the summary. Violent crimes overall dropped by one percent.
“Seeing a decrease in homicides and robberies is something the people of the City of Newark can be thankful for as we close 2017,” Baraka said. “These accomplishments show that our police officers are putting forth a tremendous effort to reduce crime in our neighborhoods."
The city has seen a 23 percent increase in aggravated assaults, along with a rise in burglaries, auto thefts and thefts from autos.
Public Safety Director Anthony F. Ambrose attributed the increase to the early release of repeat offenders through prosecutorial downgrading of criminal charges.
Plans to establish two new police facilities—one in the West Ward's Vailsburg area and one along the Belleville line to Central Avenue—were also announced, along with plans for a new Public Safety Academy to be housed in the old Bergen Street School. The building will also house the department’s new property and evidence room.
In May, Baraka and Ambrose announced the relocation of the Police Division’s Special Victim’s Unit--including the Domestic Violence Response Team and Missing Persons Unit--to the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center. The building serves as a one-stop center for women needing emergency services and information.
Community engagement was at the forefront this year, with the implementation of a variety of programs such as Coffee-with-a-Cop and a boys basketball league.
Ambrose said officers are engaging the community by hosting community safety meetings, participating in book bag drives, holiday food giveaways, cancer fundraising walks, community cookouts and cleanups, among other initiatives.
“I am proud to report that complaints against police fell 20 percent during 2017, while police encounters with citizens increased 22 percent when compared to last year,” Ambrose said. “In fact, complaints regarding the demeanor of our police officers fell by 18 percent this year versus last year. I continue to work closely with our federal monitors to ensure compliance with the consent decree in order to improve our community trust and transparency. Our Community ComStat meetings have been effective in alerting residents about our strategies and how we’re working to make each neighborhood safe. And our commanders and officers are working to ensure that police are engaging with community members on as many occasions as possible.”
Citizens will be able to become actively engaged in community safety with the city’s Virtual Citizen Surveillance, which is expected to become fully operational early next year. The system will enable residents to utilize the city’s surveillance system and report crime or suspicious activities occurring in their neighborhoods.
"Community engagement was slim to none up until 2014," Ambrose noted.
Police and Fire Division hires and promotions were also highlighted, with 209 new police officers hired in 2017, bringing the number of officers to 1,145.
In addition,107 officers were promoted and 68 new firefighters were added this year.
Baraka said notable accomplishments in 2017 include the Body Worn Camera Program – rolled out in the 5th and 2nd Precincts—that currently includes 132 cameras in use.
"This is an important step toward ensuring that interactions between the police and members of the community are documented as both positive and progressive. The rollout of body-worn cameras for every police precinct in the city will begin next year,” Baraka said. "Next year, every precinct will be equipped with body cameras."
New border patrol units were also announced, created to safeguard residents of Newark and neighboring cities of Irvington, Belleville and Bloomfield.
Plans to establish similar partnerships with police in East Orange and Hillside are being developed for 2018.
Another program of note includes a narcotics operation initiative , created in response to citizen complaints and resulting in 1,871 arrests since December 4, 2017. Police recovered 125 guns, confiscated 18,431 decks of heroin, 6,931 vials of cocaine, 2,801.7 bags plastic bags of marijuana and 2,205 assorted pills since the April inception of an ongoing citywide narcotics and guns operation.
The operation has resulted in the removal of $482,406.00 in street-value drugs and $162,222.41 confiscated in proceeds from drug sales.
The department said it has also been focusing on youth engagement and initiatives.
In June, nearly 2,000 students graduated from the Newark Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program, a 13-week course where students learned how to avoid violence, gang membership and delinquency.
Newark Council President Mildred Crump lauded the efforts of the mayor and police director.
"This council is excited about this new direction," Crump said. "We want to say thank you. We're in support of the mayor's strategy."