Newark rebirth starts with police boost: Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
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on June 12, 2014

By Bernard B. Kerik


Newark Police S.W.A.T. team members assemble outside the Prudential Center as they prepare to conduct security exercise earlier this year. The author says Newark's hope for a bright future is tied to strengthening its police department.


Back in the 1980s and 1990s, widespread violence throughout New York City reminded us that no one wants to live in, work in or even visit a place where they don’t feel safe.
The people of Newark do not have to go to their history books to understand this fact. All they have to do is look out their windows.

Last year, 111 murders were reported in the city — the most Newark has seen in two decades. Recent reports have suggested that state troopers joined the Newark Police Department in patrolling the streets, a sign that more cops are needed. According to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, Newark saw 382 carjackings in 2013 alone, earning it the dubious distinction of being one of the carjacking capitals in North America. The FBI ranked Newark the eighth most violent city in America per capita.

Increased crime and violence cause lives to be lost, families to be shattered and adults as well as children to fear they will be the next victims. In many of Newark’s neighborhoods, schools have to focus more on safety than education.

Crime also results in substantial reductions in real estate values, weak economic development, low tourism and myriad other problems that characterize Newark today.
It may sound strange to some that the former commissioner of the New York City Police Department is talking about the safety of Newark streets. But Newark holds a special place in my heart. Not only was I was born there and lived there as a child, but today my son also works as a police officer on Newark’s dangerous streets.

Despite its current bleak picture, I believe there is hope for Newark. A new beginning is possible.

Today, Ras Baraka is the mayor-elect of Newark. He assumes office June 30. He has the opportunity of a lifetime, one that’s never been taken advantage of for Newark before.

With courageous leadership, it is time to take charge first in the neighborhoods of Newark with the highest crime rates.

Imagine, as I do, a Newark where it is safe to walk the streets no matter what time of day or night. Imagine a Newark with cleaned-up neighborhoods and property values on the rise. Imagine a Newark where people want to start new businesses, where schools are safe, where tourism flourishes.

Most important, imagine a Newark where lives aren’t lost to senseless crime and violence.
Now is the time to implement real and instrumental change. Statistics prove that for every percentage point we reduce crime, we can expect higher real estate values, increased tourism and strong economic development.

Reducing crime is the only way forward.

Three years ago, the Newark Police Department laid off 165 cops and brought back just 25. The city has lost close to 200 more officers through attrition and will similarly lose close to 200 more within the next two years. In a city where residents and businesses are worried about their safety, that’s just not going to cut it.

At present, the Newark Police Department has a force of roughly 800 officers — just about half of where it should be. These low numbers endanger every Newark resident as well as the cops patrolling Newark’s streets.

It’s time to get those numbers back up to full strength. The U.S. Department of Justice COPS Program, which provides much-needed funding, can help. With New Jersey Civil Service prioritizing returning vets who are looking for police careers, there are ample qualified candidates to address Newark’s crime problem.

Now is the time to make Newark the city it should have been years ago. Ras Baraka can and should be the one to do it.

Let’s hope that Newark follows New York City’s lead and moves away from a history of crime and violence and forward into a bright and safe future.

Bernard B. Kerik served as New York City’s 40th police commissioner during the Giuliani administration.

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