PATERSON, NJ - On Thursday, Mayor Andre Sayegh, Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale, and Police Chief Ibrahim “Mike” Baycora hosted a news conference at Paterson City Hall to present, and explain, crime statistics for 2020. The trio of city leaders noted that overall crime dropped in the last 12 months but shootings and homicides have increased.
In a Powerpoint presentation by the mayor, statistics concerning lawbreaking were displayed. For 2020, arson was down by 14%, larceny was lowered by 27%, motor vehicle theft dropped by 33%, and the number of burglaries fell by 34%. Rapes committed dropped by 6% and robberies by 10%. However, instances of aggravated assault jumped by 35% and, in a statistic that officials referred to as “alarming,” the homicide rate skyrocketed by 42%.
Property crimes dropped by 30% from 3,064 in 2019, to 2153 in 2020. Baycora gave partial credit for the decrease to the onset of the coronavirus.
“Most robberies are committed during the day when people are at work or school,” the chief stated. “However, with the pandemic, many more people are staying at home. Nobody wants to rob a house when someone is at home.”
Violent crimes perpetrated in 2019 counted 1219, with the 1415 committed in 2020 representing a 16% increase. With the addition of a homicide committed near the BP gas station on Broadway, on January 16, the city passed the highest number of murders committed in 30 years. The tally includes 27 homicides and 123 shootings.
Sayegh noted two especially heinous crimes, one in which a 16-month old baby was killed and another when a pregnant woman was shot to death, in which the baby survived.
Despite the increase, officials vowed to work harder than ever to confront violence and make Paterson a safer city in which to live.
Mayor Sayegh referenced that not only larger cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia have seen violent crime increase but also smaller cities like Rockford, Illinois, have seen shootings rise, as has every other major city in New Jersey.
The Paterson Police Department has partnered with state and federal law enforcement agencies, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, and the FBI, Baycora highlighted, something that helped lead to the capture of eight out of the ten most wanted violent felons in the city.
The police department recently added 16 new officers and 19 more recruits are on track to join the force in February. The goal is to reach full capacity by the end of the year, according to Sayegh. He said that efforts to add more police has been affected by retirements and the challenge of COVID-19.
Baycora also stressed that gun control is vital in dealing with, “the two biggest problems, drug use and guns.” He added that the police department confiscated more illegal firearms in 2020 than the previous twelve months.
“Criminals are now getting hold of better guns with magazines,” Baycora explained. “They can do more damage. Sometimes they have better guns than the police department does.”
Quality of life issues and dealing with crime hot spots will continue to be addressed and police reports will be recorded digitally, according to Baycora. The chief added that after the death of George Floyd, the department monitored, “about 10 demonstrations.”
Speziale said that due to the spread of the virus people are more hesitant to get involved.
“We are not throwing our hands up in the air, we are going to fight through this,” Speziale said concerning the uptick in violent crime. “We are asking the public to cooperate and trust us. We want transparency on both sides, the police and the public.”
Speziale assured that “every technological tool possible” will be utilized to fight crime and cited the recent addition of body cameras for Paterson Police, the initiative now in an introductory test phase but soon to be fully expanded. The director also mentioned license plate reading cameras that have been installed across the city and expressed an interest in employing, “doorbell camera apps which will be used to aid investigations.”
The director praised the work of his homicide detective crew as “a phenomenal job,” singling out veteran Detective Captain Patrick Murray who heads up the Specialized Investigation Division. Speziale also expressed gratitude for the “boots on the ground work” done by a pair of local organizations, the Paterson Street Keepers and the Paterson Healing Collective.
When the Census 2020 count is completed, Sayegh offered hope, the population of Paterson will top 150,000 which would provide the designation as a first class city and thus provide more federal funds. He also said that the city is in the process of hiring a “Victims Advocate” which will serve as comfort and help for, and provide assistance to, victims of violence.
A phone interview, for all to hear, was conducted at the session between the mayor and Michael-Sean Spence, the Director of Community Safety Initiatives of the non-profit organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. The group has promised to come to Paterson to assist and train residents in how to better combat violence in their communities, according to Sayegh.
“This season has been unprecedented and unpredictable,” Sayegh concluded. “However, we desire to turn tragedy into triumph.”
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