After six homicides in as many days in the fourth full week of August, Newark Police Department Director Eugene Venable reassigned 115 officers from administrative duties to patrols. City officials believe many of the recent shootings were drug-related.
As of August 29, 62 homicides had been reported in Newark. There had been 203 shootings in the city as of August 23, compared to 163 at the same time last year. As of August 23, 249 people had been injured by guns, up 30 percent over the same time in 2014.
In spite of the recent wave of homicides, city officials say crime is down in Newark overall, with the exception of shootings and rapes. Officials say it is common to have a spike in crime over the summer. According to Venable, the reassignment of the officers was less about fighting crime than about fighting the perception that crime is increasing.
The overall number of crime complaints is down 8 percent compared to this time last year. However, James Stewart, president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police, says these statistics only reflect crimes that are reported. He believes the totals are higher.
Twenty-six Essex County Prosecutor’s Office officers have been patrolling the streets of Newark since the beginning of August, in addition to 30 detectives from the county’s inter-agency homicide task force, who are conducting investigations throughout Essex County. The Office of the Interim Essex County Prosecutor and the New Jersey State Police have agreed to help patrol neighborhoods in Newark with high levels of violence.
When Mayor Ras Baraka announced the increased patrols at a news conference in August, he also called on the state to re-accredit the Newark police academy to add to the ranks of police officers.
Officials say the increased police visibility is working. Crime in targeted areas is down.
Several other major cities have reported an increase in homicides this year. Murder rates were up by 33 percent or more in Baltimore, New Orleans, and St. Louis in the first half of 2015. Newark is doing fairly well in spite of a significant shortage in the number of police.