Law Enforcement Capacity
Newark has numerous law enforcement agencies serving the community: federal, state, county, city, educational, transit, and commercial. These agencies have a history of cordial relations and cooperative practices, especially when emergencies arise. Through the Council’s working group, we expect to deepen that cooperative spirit and extend it beyond the law enforcement community to include other groups tackling public safety such as service providers.
The key law enforcement agency is the Newark Police Department (NPD). Their capacity for public safety services has been significantly affected by fiscal and managerial changes. Since 2010, when 167 police officers were laid off due to Newark’s fiscal crisis, almost 400 Newark police officers have retired, been laid off or left for other reasons or causes. Only 90 new police officers have been appointed to replace them. The net impact on the Newark Police Department has been nearly a one-fourth reduction in uniformed officers available for assignment, with the result that the NPD has one of the lowest staffing levels, relative to crime, in the nation.
This quasi-permanent reduction in uniformed capacity has important implications for the NPD’s capacity to participate strategically in addressing the public safety priorities we have identified. Basic patrol of Newark’s 26 square miles fully occupies the assignment of a certain minimum number of the city’s 920 uniformed police. After these police resources are allocated to provide basic patrol functions, there is extremely limited residual capacity for the strategic kinds of assignments such as community policing and innovative practices that we know are the key to big impacts on pressing public safety problems.
Remarkably, in the face of these resource challenges, the NPD has been able to operate a number of specialized units charged with strategic public safety work in particular areas. These range from the Newark Violence Reduction Initiative unit, focused on gangs and guns, to the Call Out Program for Youth, a diversion program for first-time juvenile arrestees. Specialized police units have removed almost 200 guns from the streets, provided for enhanced police presence in areas with higher crime rates, and improved response to violent crimes. In the face of the extreme resource pressures, the NPD is to be congratulated for the degree to which it has become more strategic in its policing. One of the secrets has been a broad willingness on the part of NPD leadership to partner with other agencies to carry out this work. But in the long term, the capacity of NPD to make specialized and intelligence-based policing the norm for this city is dependent upon increasing the number of sworn officers.
We also want to note that the department’s consent decree with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) offers an unprecedented opportunity to address some of the issues facing the NPD. The issues range from the need for upgraded training for line staff and leadership alike to the integration of problem-solving police methods and community engagement police philosophy in the department from top to bottom. With the support of the US DOJ, and in the face of the possibilities created by new investments in the city’s policing, the Council is optimistic that Newark is poised to see the emergence of the kinds of policing reforms that will give the city the police services it needs and deserves.
At the very core of Newark’s untapped capacity are the large numbers of teenagers and young men, who have no positive connection to the city’s socioeconomic infrastructure. It has been estimated that Newark has more than 4,000 youth who have become disconnected from their communities. These youth may have dropped out of school and been unable to find work; may have been involved in the criminal justice system; may have mental or health conditions that have inhibited their activities; or may have care-giving responsibilities in their families that keep them out of the world of work. These youth are less likely to be employed and more likely to rely on government supports. They report poorer health status and are more likely to be involved in criminal activity. This has costly social and economic implications for Newark. They are called “opportunity youth,” because investments in their future represent untold opportunities for advancement of Newark’s interests.
Reengaging opportunity youth will not only reduce the problems represented by disconnected young people, but will also create new sources of energy for longer-term growth. One key mediator is education. As such, there is a growing movement in Newark to address opportunity youth, most notably, the Newark Opportunity Youth Network and the Newark Street Academy, which will provide educational support services to the city’s most vulnerable young people. There is a need for community organizations to build capacity to offer the educational, social, and emotional services and support to opportunity youth.
Perceptions of Public Safety in Newark
It may seem like a radical thing to say, but in terms of its public life, Newark is an extremely safe place. Much of Newark experiences little or no crime, and large swaths of the geography of Newark are typically without serious criminal events. Table 4 shows the frequency of violent criminal events on individual street segments in Newark, over the last eight years. (A street segment is defined as one block, between two cross streets.)
There are 7,590 street segments in Newark. In every year for which we have data, well over 80 percent of them experience no violence events in the public space. Places that have such an event rarely have a second one; less than 8 percent of the street segments in Newark have two or more events in a year. Of course, a violent, criminal event is traumatic, even if there is only one—the significance of violence should never be underestimated. But it is equally important to note that these events are far from prevalent, and the preponderance of Newark does not experience this type of crime.