Newark murders fall 40 percent, crime down 13 percent during year's first quarter

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on April 03, 2015

NEWARK — A quarter of the way through the year, all indicators are that Newark is making progress in its decades-old battle with crime.

According to police department data, the city has recorded 15 murders, a 40 percent reduction from the 25 it had through the end of last March.

As of March 29, robberies were also down 16 percent over last year, non-fatal shootings by 6 percent, and aggravated assaults by 11 percent. The number of burglaries dipped by 24 percent, and auto thefts have been reduced by 19 percent

Thefts have essentially remained stagnant, rising just 1 percent, and rapes rose to 11, nearly twice the 6 reported at this time last year.

In all, police have investigated 2,175 such crimes since the year began, a decline of 13 percent.

Mayor Ras Baraka has repeatedly stressed that progress in the city's streets, long-plagued by crime, could not be measured in raw numbers.

Last month, however, he broke slightly from that mantra during his first State of the City address, during which he cited a 30 percent reduction in overall crime since he took office in July.

"A death is a death, and one death is one death too many....We are in no way happy about where we are, but we are encouraged about where we are headed," he said at the time.

He attributed much of the reduction to new strategies implemented since his inauguration, including the creation of specialized units to focus on gangs, guns and drugs, and the transfer of dozens of officers away from desk posts and onto the street.

Police Director Eugene Venable also credited the addition of the department's "Real Time Crime Center" which allows officers to quickly share and receive intelligence between themselves and police in neighboring communities.

"The Real Time Crime Center helps us be more proactive in preventing crime," he said.

A total of 93 people were murdered in the city during 2014. The figure is on par from totals between 2010 and 2012, though it marked a major decline from the 111 recorded in 2013, the city's bloodiest year of the past two decades.

In comments following his speech last month, Baraka said he maintained that the true impact of the initiatives could not be measured in simple numbers, but felt that many had begun to pay dividends in reducing crime overall.

"The reason why I'm (citing the numbers) is it's important to let the director and the chief feel some type of accomplishment," he said.

"I admonish them all the time about 'don't talk about the numbers, don't talk about the numbers', so they don't really get an opportunity to say some of the successes that they're witnessing, no matter how small they are."

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. said he was encouraged by the year's statistics, but hesitant to draw broad conclusions until the arrival of warmer weather, which historically has been accompanied by an increase in criminal activity.

"It's pretty well established that weather has an effect on crime. A true measurement of whether we have turned the corner will be this summer," he said.

Venable, however, said he felt comfortable saying that the early statistics from this year were indicative of legitimate progress on the city's streets.

"It was cold last year too at this point. This year, we have a real time intelligence center that's effective, we have more cops on street patrol, we are taking more guns off the street," he said. "These are the three things that have led to the crime reduction. Not the weather."

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