Newark brings back police foot patrols as pandemic recedes

Posted Jun 21, 2021

Semaj Brooks looked on from inside the WOODstack streetwear store on Clinton Avenue in Newark as city officials announced police foot patrols were coming back this summer.

More police on the streets of Newark was welcome for Brooks.

“You take more police off the street, you’re inviting more crime,” said Brooks, a Newark resident, who also has family members in law enforcement.

Newark Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara announced Monday foot patrols are coming back this year after that type of engagement was non-existent last year during the pandemic.

“There were not foot patrols that I can remember last year because last year was just something different,” said O’Hara.

It was unclear how many officers would be assigned to foot patrol duty and whether it’s an increase from pre-pandemic numbers, but 22 officers were assigned to different sections of the city during a press conference near the city’s Emergency Operations Center.

Police will be deployed to known crime hot spots and will conduct walking and mobile patrols, perform road safety checkpoints, address quality of life and illegal dumping issues, officials said. Police will also join code enforcement during business inspections.

The initiative will last until the start of the school year, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said.

“Back together again is what we’re doing this summer,” said Baraka. “Outside of this pandemic, we’re bringing everybody back together and we want to do it in a safe way, in a safe environment.”

The city’s police department is beginning to focus on increased engagement with residents as the pandemic recedes. All police precincts in the city this summer are working on initiatives to increase connections with youth, too.

Residents are invited to come to community roll calls at police precincts, when officers receive the day’s public safety agenda. Hope One Newark, a police mobile unit that offers free transportation to drug treatment facilities and mental health screenings, will also be be present. Distribution of opioid-reversing drugs and HIV testing will also be available at the roll calls.

“If we’re trying to get to know each other around yellow crime scene tape, I think we’ve missed the mark,” said Acting New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan, who joined with city officials on Monday for the announcement.

Towns and cities across the country have been re-evaluating relationships with police since May of last year, when a Black man,George Floyd, was killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. But public safety and policing have been issues Newark residents and city officials have reflected on for years.

And those topics are nuanced in Newark.

Baraka last year called the concept of eliminating the police entirely a “bourgeois, liberal” approach, and the city instead decided to divert $11 million from the public safety department to social services. The mayor also attended Monday’s press conference after spending the day at a rally in Trenton to call on lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow for civilian complaint review boards with subpoena power.

Brooks, the Newark resident who was looking on in the WOODstack store, said defunding the police “would be ridiculous” for a big city. He thought police need more training to handle the types of situations they may come across on the field, like mental health scenarios.

“I think safety has to do with opportunity,” said another man inside the store as he listened to Brooks speaking to NJ Advance Media. Opportunity meant alternatives to the streets, like good-paying jobs, he said.

There have been eight homicides in Newark since June 1, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. The same data for 2019 and 2020 was not immediately available. However, Newark police data show there were 22 homicides from January to June 6 compared to 15 in the same time period last year.

While homicides remained nearly level in 2020 during the pandemic when compared to 2019, NJ Advance Media previously reported that non-fatal shootings in Newark increased last year by nearly 25%.

Overall crime in Newark remains down, O’Hara said.

The public safety director said it would take years to determine how the effects of the pandemic - which touch on housing, economic issues, and education - have impacted recent crime. He pointed out there have been more homicides this year in Newark related to domestic violence than last year.

But increasing foot patrols can only help make people feel safer, O’Hara said.

“I think there’s decades of academic research that (shows) that is something that helps make people feel safe in communities,” said the public safety director. “I think on a very basic level...that it’s absolutely essential to initiate relationships and then trying to maintain them with as many folks as we can in the community.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-06-22 03:19:33 -0700