By David Cruz
Against the backdrop of the annual Blue Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, honoring men and women in blue from around the state, Newark is still reeling from it’s long hot summer. With 86 murders this year, the city is on track to set a new five-year high in homicides. It’s a fact that has not been lost on Mayor Luis Quintana.
“Well, we wanna make sure that the city is being guarded and protected and the citizens want protection, not just downtown but in the neighborhoods. Just like economic development, it just can’t be downtown. It has to be in the neighborhoods, too,” Quintana said.
But the new mayor raised eyebrows this week when he told The Star-Ledger that he was considering trimming police presence around the performing arts center and the Prudential Arena downtown.
“What I’m suggesting is not only just have some presence but we can’t take the police vehicles that are in the precincts and put them at the arena. We’re gonna have to find a way to do something different,” Quintana said.
Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontura was at today’s mass. He says he and Quintana have always worked well together but, on this idea, they part company.
“I’m not so sure. I love the mayor; he’s a good friend of mine but I think that we need to be cautious. I don’t think he means just take everything away because we can’t do that,” Fontura said.
Newarkers have called for a redeployment of police away from downtown and into their neighborhoods since the Sharpe James administration. Ken Hines was born and raised here and works in construction downtown.
“I think you need a good amount in the city, like in the drug areas and stuff like that, but you need them in buildings like these. You’ve got to have them downtown to keep people safe in this city. This is one of the largest cities in America so you need cops everywhere,” Hines said.
Sen. Ron Rice, who represents much of the city, recently suggested that Newark was in a public safety emergency and that it was time for a Camden-style state police infusion.
Despite another homicide in the city last night, this one on Chester Avenue in the North Ward, public safety officials say while they welcome any assistance, no one is eager to see state police officers patrolling Newark’s streets.
“I don’t know if we’re at that point. I don’t know if it’s a state of emergency. I think we have quite some unfortunately quite a few young folks who are involved in some very violent acts,” Fontura said. “I’m not sure that the state police is an answer for us.”
The mayor says the city will hire 50 new cops in the next six months. Still, the force is under 1,000, from a peak of 1,700, a number no one expects to ever see again because, nowadays, like everyone else, police departments are being forced to do more with less.