PATERSON, NJ - From community watch meetings to business grand openings, presiding over swearing ins of new police officers to speaking from church pulpits, “a safer city is a stronger city” might have been one of Mayor Andre Sayegh’s most oft-uttered mantras of 2018.
And indeed, if increased investment in Paterson will follow tumbling crime statistics, the city is set for a banner year in 2019.
According to statistics shared by Sayegh and Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale, the number or murders, 11, in 2018, represents a significant drop from 2017’s 24, and is the lowest since 2004.
Non-fatal shootings, Speziale continued, also continued their decline, with 61 being recorded across the city in the 12 months that ended on December 31.
Both men cite a number of factors in these continued drops, crediting first the hard work of the men and women of the Paterson Police Department. Sayegh noted that nearly three dozen new officers, including a class of 12 he swore in just last month, were welcomed to the force in 2018, many of them initially taking up foot patrols to increase visibility and get them quickly acclimated to the community and residents they’d be serving.
“I am proud of the Paterson Police Department,” Sayegh said. “I am also proud of the work of the community,” he added giving a nod to organizations like Operation CeaseFire, neighborhood block watches, and the faith based community that continue to pay huge dividends in crime reduction.
“Crime is everyone’s problem, and everyone is part of the solution,” Speziale said pointing to an arrest on Saturday in which a good Samaritan assisted police by using his car to block the path of a suspect carrying a loaded weapon.
Speziale also lauded the partnerships with other law enforcement agencies including the State Police, Passaic County Sheriff’s Office and Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Department of Homeland Security, evident in September when Sayegh ordered an enhanced crime prevention plan saying he refused to allow a weekend in which five shootings occurred in just over 48 hours “define” Paterson.
Officials are also utilizing the courts to reduce crime, Speziale said, including by using federal guidelines to sentence convicted felons found with firearms to five years in prison.
Sayegh also noted that the impact of “hot spot” and abandoned properties legislation are reflected in these numbers, something he said, “all members of the council that have supported these initiatives can be proud of.”
Both were early initiatives of Sayegh when he served as the 6th Ward Councilman, and while the number of abandoned properties have been cut in half there are currently 18 “hot spots” in the city in which businesses are forced to close by midnight, and loitering after those hours is punishable by increased fines.
While efforts stalled to enact a 19th in August both men are hopeful that those conversations can be reignited with Speziale offering that it’s no coincidence that the “systematic drop in shootings” since 2014, when there were 99, coincides with the introduction of the policy.
Still, both men admit, crime is still an issue and efforts to keep Paterson safe won’t decrease because of the reductions. In fact, Sayegh offered, “the numbers show that what we are doing matters and only strengthen our resolve to work even harder.”
Despite budgetary constraints, Sayegh said, he is still fully committed to replacing every retiring police officer on at least a one to one basis, leading to a “reenergized” police department.
“I’ve learned in 33 years of police work that when something is working you continue it,” Speziale concluded before offering an assurance that when it comes to crime fighting especially the city will remain nimble, saying “when something doesn’t, you change it fast.”
Editor's Note: An incident from December 28 remains under investigation.
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