Violent crime declines in Newark

December 31, 2008 8:43:08 PM PST
Murders and shootings apparently have declined in New Jersey's largest city for the second consecutive year, an indication that its mayor is making progress on a pledge to reduce violent street crime. Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy said Wednesday that murders were set to plunge 32 percent this year and shootings were set to fall by 12 percent, when compared to 2007. If that stands, the 67 murders that have occurred in 2008 would represent an 8-year-low and the fifth-lowest annual total since 1964.

Overall, the crime rate was to decrease 4 percent, according to a preliminary draft of the city's annual crime report, which was obtained by The Associated Press. It includes incidents that occurred through Dec. 28.

"The reality is that Newark's murder rate was too high to begin with," said Mayor Cory Booker. "There was plenty of room for improvement, and this is the biggest one-year drop in crime the city has ever seen. The challenge for us is to continue to improve."

The overall statistics represent hard-won progress for Booker, who vowed to make public safety the cornerstone of his administration when he was elected in May 2006. The statistical improvements also belie the wider public perception of Newark, which has never fully recovered from the riots of the late 1960s.

Booker's reform efforts were overshadowed in October by a string of shootings that prompted some neighboring communities to refuse to play high school football games in the city. And his first full year in office was marred by the execution-style slaying of three college students in 2007.

The annual crime report showed that theft was down in 2008 in Newark, but the numbers of rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults and burglaries increased. The biggest increase was a 20 percent increase in robberies, which surged to 1,449.

McCarthy, who has used video surveillance cameras and a gunshot detection system to fight crime, said he will address the increase in robberies by shifting enforcement activities to the city's four precincts and away from a department-wide robbery unit.

"I'm not satisfied with the way we're responding to robberies," he said. "And I'm not ready to plant a flag yet on narcotics sales. We're not even close."

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