More cops, IDs for immigrants: 5 things we learned at Newark mayor's town hall meeting

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 29, 2015

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, shown here in a file photo, hosted a town hall meeting in the city's East Ward to discuss public safety issues on Jan. 28, 2014.

 

NEWARK — Mayor Ras Baraka addressed a near standing room only crowd of more than 250 in the East Ward Wednesday night to address issues of public safety in the surrounding neighborhoods and across Newark.

The mayor was accompanied by Police Director Eugene Venable, Police Chief Anthony Campos, East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador and 3rd Precinct Commander Capt. Joe Pereira, covered issues spanning from violent crime to chronic code issues.

Baraka also shared news on a number of initiatives and strategy shifts he hopes to introduce in the weeks and months to come.

Here are 5 of the most important things we learned at the meeting:

1. Baraka is hoping to add 150 new officers to the city’s police department this year. A total of 35 were brought on board during 2014, which was the first new police hired since budget problems forced massive layoffs in 2010.

Baraka said the proposed addition “doesn’t mean we have an influx of a whole bunch of money”, and that cuts will need to be made in other areas in the name of public safety.

2. Responding to a question about illegal immigrants being afraid to report crimes in the East Ward, Baraka revealed that Newark officials are taking steps to establish a municipal ID program for undocumented residents that would allow them to open bank accounts and register their addresses with public agencies without fear of being deported. Similar programs have been enacted in cities like New York and New Haven, Conn.

“We’re moving in that direction to make it more secure for undocumented folks to be a part of the citizenry of the city of Newark,” Baraka said.

3. The city will again face a large deficit when it looks to finalize its next budget. Baraka did not provide specifics on the potential size of the shortfall, but said it would not rival the $93 million figure he helped to downsize after taking office in July.

4. Baraka is hoping to commit $1 million to demolish anywhere between 40 and 50 abandoned buildings around the city in the near future. It is also pursuing a state grant that could allow that figure to grow. The mayor said he believed the vacant buildings helped foment crime and other quality of life issues.

“They’re the center for the problems that we’re having,” he said.

5. Officials are looking to step up code enforcement around Newark, especially in the South and Central Ward, and around prominent entry points along the city’s borders.

A proposal to deputize municipal workers from other departments as temporary enforcement officers have been discussed, and Baraka has already met with the Department of Transportation about potential help around state roads leading into the city.

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