NEWARK, NJ — A three-year study on the  Newark Community Street Team 's (NCST) efforts to minimize crime in Newark shows the organization effectively decreased crime while increasing community trust as well as public safety from March 2017 to January 2020.

“Communication and relationships between NCST and partner organizations as well as law enforcement and city services have improved over time, largely due to the strengthening of the NCST model and its implementation," according to the study conducted by the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership.

“The Newark Community Street Team should continue to be funded and developed as a national best practice. There must be a dedicated line item in the city and/or state budget to fund NCST in the years ahead. It should be a permanent part of city services,” the report stated.

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The Newark Community Street Team has been around for the past seven years. “We are a complement to law enforcement. We see ourselves as the solution in the reimagining of the public safety conversation,” NCST Director Aqeela Sherrills told TAPinto Newark. “We are excited to have our work lifted up through evaluations and through media because we are serving as a model for cities like Newark across the state, but also across the country.”

Sherrills said the organization has implemented a public approach to reduce violence and crime in the city, which he feels is central to reforming public safety. 

Founded in 2014 by community members and formalized by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the NCST hires, trains and deploys outreach workers and high-risk interventionists in the city’s South and West Wards. The team members, several of which include those who have been formerly incarcerated and have engaged in the drug trade, are trained as mentors and interventionists to support at-risk youth and young adults 14-30 years old through a case management model.

In the street team’s evaluation, it notes that the organization has not stayed “rigidly fixed” on its initial strategies, but instead, has responded to community needs with the intentional development of new approaches and services.

These services include a Safe Passage Program; Public Safety Roundtables; wellness evaluation and therapeutic counseling in partnership with the Department of Health and Community Wellness; support through the application process for the Victims Compensation Fund connecting survivors of crimes with support services; and employment and education referrals, in partnership with Newark Jobs Connect. 

The evaluation research was guided to better observe the street team's functions in violence prevention and as a public safety organization and drew upon time spent with leadership and its staff as well as residents, community-based non-profit organizations, law enforcement, and elected officials. 

“We say that we’ve invested enough money in public safety and police,” Sherrills said. “We need to now invest more money into organizations like NCST where you have residents that are trained as public safety professionals in conflict resolution, mediation and de-escalation strategies - working through a public lens to actually reduce violence and crime in their respective communities.”

The city organization has even garnered the support of Public Safety Director Anothony Ambrose. 

“When there is a problem we call them,” Ambrose said. “Their work fills a void that cannot be filled by the police department.”

Last year, the city passed an ordinance to reallocate 5% of the police budget to a new Office of Violence Prevention. As part of the reinvestment, it will create a permanent headquarters for the office and outlaw racist activity, among other actions.

“We want to keep people out of jail while we create opportunities where they can grow,” Baraka said. “We need trauma-informed care and community round tables, but all of this takes time. Violence is a public health issue, and we need to deal with it the way we dealt with polio – we have to change how we intervene, otherwise, people are more than likely to catch this disease of violence and suffer even more.”

Following the release of the UCLA organization's report, Sherrills told TAPinto Newark that he felt the street team already understood its impact but commended the study as evidence of the team’s work. 

“Anyone who wants to better understand the origins of NCST and the work we do every day should read this evaluation,” the NCST director said. “The researchers at UCLA spent the time needed to tell the story of our innovative, community-based approach to violence prevention and the impact we’re having on public safety and neighborhood well-being.”

 

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