Bringing order to Newark streets will take work by the entire community
A recent study by the Police Executive Research Forum found Newark to be part of a cohort of midsize American cities that have seen a significant spike in violent crime over the past two years. Indeed, homicides in Newark have risen from 85 in 2004 to 105 in 2006, a 25 percent increase. The real jump in the homicide rate took place in 2001 when murders increased by 54 percent, from 59 to 91. The shootings that took place last Tuesday, leaving one Newarker dead and eight injured, underscore this trend.
Interestingly, other serious crimes such as aggravated assaults have actually declined in Newark over the past decade.
Research conducted by Rutgers Police Institute reveals what is going on in Newark: a relatively small number of African-American young men, with lengthy delinquency and criminal histories, are carrying guns, dealing drugs, draping themselves in gang colors, and settling disputes -- many trivial -- by shooting each other. While many shootings appear gang related -- in that the shooter and victim are gang members in name -- relatively few are gang motivated. Gang membership, except for relatively small groups of hard-core individuals, is largely symbolic.
Who shoots, and who gets shot, is almost literally determined by the “luck of the draw.” We had a shooting victim last month, for example, who had 34 arrests and 19 convictions, mostly for weapons possession and drug sales. This time he was the victim, but he could have easily been the perpetrator. Further complicating matters, many who survive shootings know who shot them but wont tell the police -- planning instead to settle the matter themselves and continue the cycle of violence. Witness intimidation is widespread.
The consequences of this violence for Newark citizens who live in tough places like Bradley Court or Seth Boyden are disastrous. Families live as virtual hostages in their own homes; commerce suffers, taking away desperately needed jobs; the basic institutions of a functioning civil society -- schools, churches, community groups -- deteriorate; good citizens begin to arm themselves.
Despite this gloomy scenario, we believe that there are several reasons to be hopeful about Newarks future.
First, to date in 2007, total reported crime is down 30 percent in Newark. Shootings are down 42 percent. Homicides are down by 8 percent since Garry McCarthy took over as Newark police director in September.
Second, Newark is well organized. For the last six years, criminal justice agencies, other governmental agencies, social and mental health agencies, faith institutions, community representatives, and social scientists and their students have met regularly under the Safer Cities program at Rutgers University in Newark. They have become adept at analyzing problems and coordinating responses. Experience suggests that this collaborative effort has successfully kept recidivism of high-risk parolees at low rates by integrating the control efforts of parole agents with the assistance of Newarks social and faith institutions.
Moreover, Safer Cities has maintained a close liaison with community and neighborhood organizations. No city in the United States has been able to maintain such a sustained network of law enforcement and social and faith institutions.
Third, Newark, along with Irvington, has had experimental success in both reducing shootings (by 30 percent) and solving shootings (from less than 15 percent of cases to more than 40 percent). This effort, Operation Ceasefire, pioneered by the New Jersey State Police and the Newark and Irvington police departments and Rutgers Police Institute, has been adopted by Gov. Jon Corzine and is now being replicated throughout the state. Credit for this success belongs both to civilian outreach workers and criminal investigators who are finding new ways to relate to the community, to investigate shootings, and to work together.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, we turn to the story of the remarkable crime reduction McCarthy was able to achieve in the Washington Heights neighborhood of northern Manhattan when he was with the New York City Police Department. Like Newark today, Washington Heights in the 1980s and early 90s was a major drug distribution center that suffered from high levels of violent crime. In 1991, there were 119 murders in Washington Heights, which is approximately the size of Newark. Under McCarthys leadership as commander of the 33rd precinct, murders in Washington Heights fell to just 15 by 1998, an incredible 87 percent drop.
How did McCarthy accomplish this? In three phases: first, he targeted and dismantled the entire wholesale and retail drug organization in the neighborhood. This was not just a few “buy and bust operations.” Forty top-level dealers were arrested, prosecuted, and handed stiff prison sentences.
Second, to ensure that the vacuum that resulted from the first phase did not attract other drug organizations, he increased police presence through foot patrol and aggressive vehicle and pedestrian stops, which were conducted under clear legal guidelines.
Third, police closely collaborated with other city agencies to improve and maintain the quality of life in the neighborhood. Police also mobilized the community by helping organize block watches, youth councils, and landlord and tenant associations. Even when McCarthy gradually cut the police presence, the initiatives full impact remained. Police and newly-empowered community leaders have prevented disorder and crime from returning.
McCarthy is a well-respected police official with an impressive record, yet there is a limit to what one man, or even an entire police force, can accomplish. As the Washington Heights story illustrates, if Newark is to experience major reductions in crime it will take a real effort from all elements of the greater Newark community. This includes police, the criminal justice system -- prosecutors, judges, parole and probation officers -- as well as community leaders, clergy, social service providers, landlords, business leaders, and the many decent citizens of Newark who have had enough of the senseless violence. The good news is: if we all work together, change is possible.