By Desirée Taylor
Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio couldn’t hide his emotion.
“It takes a great team and the Newark Police Department is the greatest damn team I have ever played on in anything I have ever done,” said DeMaio.
A 28-year veteran of the force who rose through the ranks, DeMaio became police director in 2011, not long after the department was reeling over the loss of one-third of the force due to layoffs. Despite this, DeMaio says he was able to stem the rising tide of violence.
“When I took over the department in 2011, the department was heading toward a 45 percent increase in murder and 51 percent increase in shootings. Numbers were skyrocketing. We closed out the year with a reduction in murders and shootings,” DeMaio said.
But 2013 was one of the most violent years in about a decade. There were 113 murders. Among them, the Christmas day shootings that claimed the life of three teens. And the city’s been plagued by carjackings.
“I think we are going to see this start to push back just because when they start to realize the penalties are so severe. We have a great partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and they are taking a lot of our cases. People are surprised when they hear that they are getting arrested for a car jacking and they are getting 184 months out of prison in Colorado,” DeMaio said.
“I was so happy when he came in. He was able to bring back motorcycles, mounted police, helicopter. These things were shut off from all of us,” said Newark Mayor Luis Quintana.
But even some of the harshest critics of the Newark Police Department give DeMaio praise. The ACLU of New Jersey, who issued a scathing a petition several years ago alleging abuse and misconduct at the department, acknowledged DeMaio has taken steps to address some of their concerns.
“This is a department troubled for five decades and even one good police director can’t do enough to change that. We need the outside pressure of the Department of Justice to keep that pressure on,” said Alexander Shalom of the ACLU.
Community activist Donna Jackson, a vocal critic of many city leaders, gives DeMaio high marks.
“In terms of community relationships and partnerships I give him an A, for the police work being done on the street I give him a C for crime,” Jackson said.
DeMaio passes the baton to Police Chief Sheila Coley. The new acting director will become the department’s first female to lead the force.