Baraka taps Essex County chief of detectives to lead Newark police, fire operations

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on December 21, 2015

Anthony Ambrose

 

NEWARK — Mayor Ras Baraka is turning to an old friend of the city as he begins a drastic overhaul of its public safety system.

Anthony Ambrose was officially revealed as the city's acting public safety director at a City Hall press conference Monday morning. In the newly created position, he will oversee the city's police, fire and emergency management departments.

With the full Municipal Council at his side, Baraka said the move would reduce burdensome bureaucracy in all of the departments — saving more than $500,000 in the process — while increasing accountability and freeing up new hands to help with the city's battle with crime.

"It's always easy to have less people accountable and not more. There's only one or two people at the top that have to take full responsibility," he said.

Ambrose is a local law enforcement veteran who has served as the chief of detectives with the Essex County Prosecutor's Office since 2008. He cut his teeth as an officer in Newark, rising to become police chief and police director between 1999 and 2006.

He then joined the Essex County Sheriff's Office as an undersheriff before moving to the prosecutor's office, where he supervised investigations into homicides and other major offenses.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Ambrose said he would begin transitioning into his new role on Tuesday, while balancing his current duties as chief of detectives. He will continue to collect his $170,900 salary from the county, and will not be paid by Newark until he can be confirmed as permanent director by the city council.

"I like a challenge. I think we can build on what (previous police leadership) has done," he said. I'm not here to consolidate police departments - it's not on my radar at all. In any department, there's room for improvement."

The official creation of the public safety must also still be approved by the executive body, but will also include several other moves among the upper ranks of the police and fire departments.

Raul Malave, a longtime battalion chief with the city's fire department, will take over as deputy public safety director. Fire Chief John Centanni and Police Chief Anthony Campos both remain in their current positions, though several sources have told NJ Advance Media that Campos appears to be on his way out of the department.

Eugene Venable, who Baraka had appointed police director when he took office last year, will remain with the force in an unspecified command staff role, according to Baraka. Fire Director James Stewart, who now finds himself without a position, is expected to retire.

"He's served well for almost 50 years. We thank him and applaud him for the work that he's done," Baraka said of Stewart.

The consolidation of the police, fire and emergency management operations enables the city to eliminate various positions from the respective departments, including deputy directors, finance and communications jobs — accounting for much of the significant annual savings.

The mayor also acknowledged that the move was at least partially spurred by an increase in violent crimes across the city. Police have recorded 98 homicides so far this year — five more than during all of 2014 — and shootings have spiked more than 15 percent.

However, city officials said they did not believe the shake-up was an admission that the police department's current leadership was somehow lacking.

"I don't think that this is an admission at all," said Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins. We're still coming off of the layoffs of 167 police officers, we're still dealing with the fact that poverty is way off the charts. This is just an opportunity to coordinate and enhance the efficiencies that we need."

West Ward Councilman Joe McCallum expressed similar sentiments, saying he hoped the move would show residents that officials were not taking the city's struggles with crime lightly.

"We all know the residents know that we need to do something different," he said. "We need to be proactive and not reactive, and I think this is a part of that."

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