First quarter sees 14 percent reduction in Newark crime, 60 percent rise in homicides

By Vernal Coleman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on April 21, 2016

 

NEWARK With the first three months of 2016 come and gone, the results of the city's efforts to combat crime through the first quarter of the year appear to be mixed.

The number of non-fatal shooting incidents, long a problem in the city, stood at 53 as of April 3, a decrease of five percent over last year's three-month total. And the number of burglaries and robberies both dropped by double digits.

In all, the city recorded 2,037 crime incidents through the first quarter of 2016, a 14 percent reduction in overall crime from where the statistics stood at the same point last year.

But homicides continue to pose a significant challenge for the city. By the end of January, city officials recorded 13 killings, nearly equaling the 15 recorded through the first three months of 2015. As of April 3, the total stood at 24, five of which could be attributed to domestic violence incidents, officials have indicated.

Acting Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose acknowledged the increase in homicides, but remained hesitant to draw a broad conclusions from the first quarter stats.

"These numbers both good and bad are indicators only," he said. "I don't judge the job our personnel are doing on statistics alone."

Ambrose instead suggested looking toward improvements to services provided by the police department. Those improvements, along with the downward trend in overall crime, indicate that the various moves initiated since the January overhaul of police department leadership are paying off, he said.

On Tuesday, Ambrose and other city officials announced the results of the department's recently wrapped 45 Day plan to reduce crime and increase public trust in city police.

Initiated in February, the plan called for the consolidation of some department administrative positions to free up more officers for street duty, as well as an assessment of officer response times and the department's internal affairs unit.

Along with Mayor Ras Baraka, Ambrose touted the recent increases in the clearance rate for shootings and other major crimes, as well as increases in the number of calls for service fielded by employees at the department's communications center.

"The initiatives we've put in place--streamlining policies, transferring the right people to the right place, beefing up in intelligence--has had some effect," Ambrose said Tuesday. "We're not out of the woods, but we're moving in the right direction."

Baraka echoed the sentiment, saying that he's "optimistic about the direction the city is moving in." While homicides remain a significant issue, the effects of changes and policies initiated by the department since the January leadership shakeup are only just beginning to take hold, he said.

How well they take hold could have a direct bearing on whether the downward trend in crime continues into the summer months, which traditionally are accompanied by an increase in violent crime.

In 2015, initial gains in the city's battle against street crime were eventually erased as homicides and shootings spiked upward during the summer months. A total of 104 people were murdered in the city last year.

But even with warmer weather looming, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. said he's encouraged. 

"You can't measure success based on solely on homicide stats," Ramos said. "Around Newark, I see police striving to be more productive and visible in the city's tougher communities and that makes me confident in Director Ambrose and the other men and women who keep the city safe."

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