After heavy police layoffs in 2010, arrests plunged in Newark and Camden in 2011

Police in Newark and Camden made nearly 7,700 fewer arrests last year than in 2010 as violent crime rose during the same period in the wake of some of the largest police layoffs in New Jersey history.

But while many had suggested the layoffs would result in surges in violent crime, the trend actually began at least a year before the first officers were handed pink slips.

After looming budget deficits forced the two cities to lay off more than 160 cops each, the combined number of arrests fell to 25,012 last year from 32,703 in 2010, records show. Camden’s arrest rate dropped 43 percent last year from 2010, while Newark’s dropped by 16 percent.

But the arrest rate has fallen for the past three years in Newark and for the past two in Camden. At the same time, records show, the number of shootings, homicides and robberies have risen over the same period in both cities.

Still, Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson blamed layoffs in early 2011 for exacerbating the trend.

“Many organizations had layoffs. In one day, we had a decimation,” said Thomson, whose department lost 168 officers.

Wayne Fisher, a professor at the Rutgers Police Institute, said it is clear that reductions in police manpower will have consequences.

“These numbers, are evidence that those consequences have in fact taken place,” he said.

But Paul Louriquet, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa, said the cities would not have been forced to lay off so many officers had it not been for the unions’ unwillingness to make concessions.

“Had there been furloughs, levels could have stayed a lot higher,” Loriquet said. “But this was what was decided amongst the ranks. It’s unfortunate that those were the decisions that were made.”

James Stewart Jr., president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police, said Chiesa wasn’t involved in negotiations with the city and has no first-hand knowledge of what transpired.

“If he would like real details about what was discussed at the table, and what the city thought the men and women of this department should give up, I welcome a call from him,” Stewart said.

The decline in arrests has been more pronounced in Camden, where 240 officers remain. In 2009, Camden police made 11,279 arrests. That number dropped to 9,380 in 2010 and to 5,348 last year. Meanwhile, homicides rose from 34 in 2009, to 39 in 2010, to 50 last year. Non-fatal shootings and burglaries also rose in each of the three years, records show.

In Newark, the number of arrests last year was down for the third year in a row, continuing a trend that began in 2009, records show.

In 2008, there were 31,075 arrests and the 67 homicides that year were the fewest since 2002. In 2009, however, the number of arrests dropped by 7 percent, to 28,742. They fell another 19 percent, to 23,323, in 2010 and by 16 percent last year, to 19,664.

The layoffs in Newark, which took effect Dec. 1, 2010, seemed to have an immediate effect on arrests.

Between January and June of 2011, police recorded nearly 4,000 fewer arrests than they did during the same period in 2010.

As arrests continued to decline in Newark, the number of homicides rose each year since 2008. There were 91 homicides last year, the most since 2007. Non-fatal shootings followed a similar arc, rising from 258 in 2009 to 349 last year, police records show.
Despite the numbers, the city is making progress against gun violence, Police Director Samuel DeMaio said. Shootings did not increase in the second half of the year while arrests actually increased slightly as the department re-focused its efforts on gun seizures as a way to reduce violent crime, DeMaio said.

“If you look at … that swing when we changed our enforcement tactics, and the dramatic increase in the gun recoveries, it shows me that we are conducting our enforcement tactics in the right place, on the right people,” DeMaio said.

Stewart, the Newark union leader, said the loss of younger officers to layoffs continues to hurt overall arrest totals.

“This department is getting smaller, and older, by the day, while the bad guy, the drug dealer, the gang member, the carjacker, always seems to be 22 years old, brazen, and armed better than we are,” he said.

The cuts also weakened efforts in Newark and Camden to investigate gangs and drugs, factors that drive crime. DeMaio said his gang unit is “35 percent” smaller than it was before the layoffs. In Camden, the entire narcotics unit was laid off and had to be re-staffed, Thomson said.

Thomson said he’s more concerned about the decline in arrests for certain crimes rather than overall numbers. Gun violence surged in Camden last year, while the number of arrests made for weapons possession fell by 41 percent in 2011.

Camden officials believe they can bring more cops back to the city by creating a county police force. The move would dissolve the city police department and require officers to reapply for the county force under a new contract, officials said.

Gov. Chris Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) support the plan, but union leaders say it is flawed.

“If you’re going to put more officers on the street, why would you embark on a plan where you would have to fire the entire police department, then hire back less than half?” asked John Williamson, president of Camden’s Fraternal Order of Police. “The money they intended to spend to start a new force could simply be invested into the current police.”

View chart of Newark/Camden crime stats

From The Star-Ledger

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