Newark's plan to hire 100 cops could be stalled by city budget woes, councilman says

By James Queally/The Star-Ledger
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on January 07, 2014

Acting Mayor Luis Quintana (center) announced the hiring of 100 additional police officers during a City Hall press conference on Tuesday afternoon, but Newark's budget woes could stop half of those officers from ever hitting the streets. (Michael Monday/The Star-Ledger)


NEWARK — Moments after Mayor Luis Quintana was cheered during a press conference to announce the hiring of 100 police officers, a Newark councilman said the city's budget problems could prevent half those officers from ever reaching the street.

Quintana and Police Director Samuel DeMaio announced the hirings during a press conference at City Hall this afternoon, claiming the new officers are part of a larger plan to combat crime after Newark saw 111 homicides in 2013, its deadliest year since 1990.

But Councilman Anibal Ramos, one of four men running for mayor this year, said an estimated $30 million shortfall in the 2014 budget could derail the hiring of 50 of those cops.

“Until we see a spending plan from the administration - a budget - we’re not going to be in a position where we can say we’re going to be able to hire X number of police officers," Ramos said.

Ramos said he's assuming the police department budget will increase this year. However, he said, even if "we just kept all our city budgets flat and rolled them into 2013 there’s going to be a gap.”

Newark's budget for 2013 totaled $588 million.

DeMaio said the city was set to hire 50 officers last year, but delays in the adoption of the budget stalled that plan. Fifty recruits will enter the police academy in March and their salaries were included the 2013 budget, according to DeMaio, who said another 50 officers will enter the academy once the first class graduates.

Ramos said the first academy class will go on as planned. But the second is far from certain, he said.

“Until we see a budget, I can’t really tell you that we’re going to hire those officers," he said. "We’re excited about adding new officers, but the basis for all this is stabilizing the city’s budget.”

A spokeswoman for Quintana did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, one of three men running against Ramos in the May 2014 election, also said city budget figures would only allow for 50 officers to be hired at this time. But he believes that Quintana will find a way to bring an additional 50 cops on board despite the budget tumult.

"I don't know where he's gonna get this from, but obviously he has the B.A. with him and the rest of those guys and maybe they are advising him that this can be done," Baraka said. "If they're saying they are hiring 100 police officers then hopefully we can trust him because he's the mayor and he's gonna get it done."

News of the new hirings came as Quintana, DeMaio, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray and a dozen other Essex County elected officials came together to give a "report card" on the city's anti-crime initiatives in 2013.

There were 111 homicides in Newark last year, up from 96 in 2012. The number of killings was the city's highest since 1990, a figure DeMaio said was driven by an increase in targeted shootings between drug dealers and a flood of high-powered illegal weapons pouring into the city from out of state.

Driven by a surge in cell phone thefts, robberies also jumped to their highest total since 1999, records show. There were 2,440 robberies in 2013, up from 2,017 in 2012.

Despite the rise in homicides and robberies, police made gains in other areas. In February, DeMaio formed a task force to tackle nonfatal shootings in the wake of a Star-Ledger report that showed thousands of those cases went unsolved in New Jersey's bloodiest cities from 2008 to 2012.

Nonfatal shootings dropped from 277 in 2012 to 243 last year, while investigators solved 33 percent of those cases in 2013, compared to just 13 percent in 2012.

"That's something significant and it's a sign of progress," he said.

Aggravated assaults also dipped by 17 percent, and citizen complaints about drug dealing fell by 12 percent last year, DeMaio said.

The debate about the police hires came as Newark's budget struggles also drew the ire of state officials. Earlier today, The Star-Ledger obtained a letter from the state Department of Community Affairs ordering a new audit of Newark's finances and threatening action if the city does not find a way to bring its budget in line.

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