At Newark Public Safety Panel, City Leaders Highlight Investment In Community

The panel event was hosted in conjunction with the release of a recent report, “The Future of Public Safety: Exploring the Power and Possibility of Newark’s Reimagined Public Safety Ecosystem. The report, which was released by the city, Equal Justice USA and the Newark Community Street Team (NCST), revealed that part of the pathway to overcoming violence starts by understanding how people are “stuck with trauma” and by addressing factors of repetitive harm.

Baraka was joined at the event by local leaders and officials to discuss the report’s findings and outline what efforts can be taken to address violence through community-based strategies.

“The data tells us that if you grew up in a household with people that have been victims of violence, you’re more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of violence yourself,” the mayor said.

Trauma is only one contributing factor to violent crime. The report points out that other drivers of crime include, but are not limited to, poverty, mental illness and substance abuse.

In order to address these issues, one of the panelists, Jamila Hodge, a former federal prosecutor who now leads Equal Justice USA, a New York-based organization that advocates for breaking cycles of trauma in order to transform the justice system, said the focus should be on prevention rather than punishment.

Rather than sending victims back into a broken system that has for decades only manifested crime, the former prosecutor said that breaking a cycle of violence starts by addressing trauma.

“I never had, in my 12 years as a prosecutor, a violent crime case where the person accused had not themselves been traumatized,” Hodge said. “The story was always the same. It was not having a stable family. It was being victimized from childhood.”

In Newark, the city has already taken numerous steps to address trauma and support violence reduction initiatives.

In November 2021, the city invested heavily in supporting community-based public safety resources, dedicating $19 million towards violence reduction strategies over the next three years.

Additionally, the city committed about $12 million of its public safety budget to establishing an Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery as a means to impede hate activity and violence within Newark.

The move was backed by the city in July 2021 when it introduced a group of social workers through its Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery to address how mental health issues are overlooked in everyday interactions between police and the public. Under their role in the department, the social workers are tasked with providing services to crime victims and others such as crisis intervention, mediation, and referrals.

“Violence needs to be treated as a public health issue because it’s very serious,” Baraka said.

Alongside steps the city is taking to address violence reduction strategies, the report found that community-based efforts are a key element in mitigating violent crime as well.

One group that has come into focus in recent years as a leader in community-based public safety is NCST. Founded by Baraka in 2015, NCST was established with a mission to implement an evidence-based, trauma-informed approach to violence reduction. The aim of the organization is to not only reduce crime with a community-led response but to have systems in place that support the city’s most vulnerable residents.

NCST supports residents in a number of ways such as conducting wellness evaluations and therapeutic counseling in partnership with the city’s Department of Health and Community Wellness; support through the application process for the Victims Compensation Fund connecting survivors of crimes with support services; and employment and education referrals, in partnership with Newark Jobs Connect.

“Our belief is that if we train residents to stand together in conflict resolution, mediation, and deescalation strategies, those who are closest in proximity to the nature of the violence have to be equipped with the skills, the tools, and resources to do the intervention, prevention, and the treatment,” said panelist and NCST Board Chair Aqeela Sherrills.

NCST already holds a proven track record of success in the community.

In 2021, a report conducted by the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership, a cross-disciplinary research, evaluation, and policy group, highlighted NCST’s efforts in reducing violent crime in the city. The report found that the organization's efforts to minimize crime in Newark through community-based initiatives effectively decreased crime while increasing community trust as well as public safety from March 2017 to January 2020.

“Communication and relationships between NCST and partner organizations as well as law enforcement and city services have improved over time, largely due to the strengthening of the NCST model and its implementation," the report read.

These types of community-led violence prevention strategies seen in Newark will likely be emulated across the country, too.

The Biden administration last year announced that $10 billion in American Rescue Plan funding would be committed to public safety and violence prevention efforts while praising states and cities across the country like Newark that have already implemented these approaches.

As other cities and communities in the U.S. look to establish their own initiatives for addressing violent crime, Baraka said that engagement is key.

“Make sure you continue to talk to law enforcement,” he said. “You have to get them on board with this at some point.”

More importantly, the mayor said it takes perseverance.

“It’s not all going to be successful right away," he said. "You have to have the patience to see this thing evolve.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-06-17 02:51:10 -0700