New Crime-Fighting Initiative Aims to Curb Spike in Newark

By David Cruz

By now the pattern of crime spike followed by new anti-crime initiative has become common in Newark. In fact, the man at the center of today’s press conference — Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose — was hired late last year partly in response to a string of murders. So, too, is the city’s “Operation Forge Ahead”, a response to a violent first month of the New Year. Ambrose is tasked with increasing public confidence in the department and raising expectations — but not too high.

“Not every murder, not every shooting, is suppressible,” he said. “I hope people realize that we could have a million cops but if someone wants to kill someone, they’re going to kill them. Someone wants to shoot someone, they’re going to shoot them. But we want to minimize it. We want to be able to control crime and make people feel safer.”

Operation Forge Ahead is a 45-day, nine-point plan that includes:

  • – Putting police, fire and OEM under one roof at the OEM command center in the South Ward
  • – Building out the Major Crimes Unit
  • – Beefing up intelligence
  • – Targeting the high crime South, West and East Wards
  • – Cutting down response time to crimes and fire
  • – Revamping Internal Affairs
  • – Holding Monthly COMSTAT meetings in public
  • – Getting more community input on customer service and
  • – Creating a Public Safety Academy for Residents.

Ambrose explained that a Public Safety Academy for Residents is part of the community engagement effort.

“To have a public safety police academy to bring the clergy and the citizens in under one roof for nine weeks, three hours, once a week, to teach them and let them know, let them be our eyes and ears, so they can go out to the community, what the police department does, what the fire department does and what OEM does and what resources are available to them,” explained Ambrose.

This is a department that is down to around 900 cops from a peak of 1,400 a decade ago. Residents have been steadily losing faith as violent crime continues, seemingly unabated. Mayor Ras Baraka, who highlighted crime fighting as part of his election campaign, expressed some frustration at the lack of community support.

“If I could just get people in the city to be as irritated about homicide and murder as we were about the snow,” he lamented. “So all the hashtags. I want you to hashtag me and say that this is the guy who beat that lady up last night. This is the person I know who did this shooting. Like, hit me with that. Hashtag that. Put that put on Facebook, Twitter, Internet, everywhere that you have. You need to expose what’s happening in these communities because you know these people.”

Newark resident Denise Cole said she is optimistic but will still wait and see. “If you don’t reach out to people who live in the block, who the community communicates with and identify with, because they don’t always identify with these agencies that you’re calling community engagement, because those agencies are built on outside voices, not inside voices,” she said.

“The community wants to hear that when they call a police car for an incident, that they’re going to get a response,” said Councilman Luis Quintana. “They’re not going to [want] ‘please hold on.’ You can’t hold when you’re being mugged. You can’t hold when you’re being shot at.”

Ambrose says his department will have 78 new cops by May and another 150 in the academy within a year of that. Help from the feds, the county and the state, which is sending troopers for a six-month period will also help. But don’t expect miracles in 45 days, he said. Residents will get a look at how the department has done by mid-March.