Next week, the City of Newark is set to unveil new crime statistics, that they say will be record breaking. Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose is giving an exclusive preview to Senior Correspondent David Cruz.
Cruz: I remember about three years ago when you were coming back on the job, we had an interview then, and you seemed optimistic but it seemed like behind that you were a little concerned. It was a different time then.
Ambrose: Oh, yes, it was. I like a challenge, but that was a kind of tall order challenge once I did come back into the police division and accept the role as Public Safety [Director].
Cruz: What was the biggest challenge? What bothered you the most when you were coming back? What did you say, “Oh, this is bad.”
Ambrose: Well, two things right off the bat: there was no resources and we had a consent decree that was going to be enacted, so they were my two priorities. There was 800-plus police officers, only about 600 coming to work, so it was definitely a public safety issue.
Cruz: From a top number of what? What was at its peak, the department was over 1,000?
Ambrose: At one time, the department was almost up to 1,700, so the department was down to about 835 and 200 were either sick, injured, that did not work the street so it made it less officers on the street. And that was a major problem, so I think some of the things that I had addressed head-on was, you know, restoring the police division.
Cruz: Just in terms of numbers — straight up numbers — right?
Ambrose: Yes, yes, without a doubt.
Cruz: So you have a press event coming up on Jan. 3 where you’re going to unveil some new statistics. And I know you want to hold off on revealing all of it, but you wouldn’t be having a press event on Jan. 3 if things were going badly, so what can you tell us? What numbers are you going to be unveiling?
Ambrose: Well, I have to say that this year, 2018 versus last year, our crime is down about 15 percent. These are preliminary UCR numbers — Uniform Crime Report numbers. About 1,300-plus less victims, we’re down in every category of crime except for rape and aggravated assaults. Our rapes are the reporting mechanism that change in 2015 and they’re mainly they’re mainly incest rapes. And our aggravated assaults, we’re seeing, you know, there’s a spike on less violence with firearms but more with tire irons and bats, so that’s where we have a spike.
Cruz: You would have to say that that’s progress, right, because guns is the biggest thing in big cities. You know, a beef that might have been settled with fists or a bat are now settled with firearms.
Ambrose: Yes, and I must say knives too. We saw an uptick in stabbings. But when you talk about violence, you know, we recovered over 560 guns this year to date, and what helps is that our intelligence unit that we formulated that goes after the worst of the worst. You know, we can’t arrest our ways out of this, so I think that we have 106 less people that were shot this year, we have a 50 percent reduction in robbery since 2016. These are some really large numbers in reducing violence. Homicides were down also. As of today, we have a 68 homicides. Last time we had that low was about 10 years ago.
Cruz: Really? That’s real numbers there. What would you say has been the impact of this federal monitor that you mentioned before. How has that been going? I know you were one of the people who welcomed them?
Ambrose: I still do. I think that having the monitor is a great thing. There’s things that we couldn’t get done systemically in the department for years and years, that we have the mayor that supports it. With the monitor, training is our biggest, you know we’re training more officers — training them in arrest search and seizure, training people in community policing where it’s not just a word, community policing. Actually teaching them what community policing is rather than just that block of instruction they have in the police academy and I think it’s important that it’s changing the culture. And it’s the right time because we have, over the last three years, we have over 500 new officers, so it’s the right time to change the culture, and also to train them right and make sure that they do the right thing.
Cruz: You talk about changing the culture, we always talk about that in the department as well, but the city itself. Are residents starting to see this city differently because things are going so well, like economically.
Ambrose: Yes, without a doubt. You know, three years ago it was very slim but we could always do better but we have a great, great partnership with community groups throughout the city. You know, we invite them to our compstat. We bring them to the neighborhood, our compstat. We’re very transparent. We cannot do it alone — without the residents; without our federal partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the prosecutor, the sheriff and the State Police. You know, back when I got here three years ago, State Police was sending 50 troopers right away. It was important so partnerships — the Newark street team that was made up of civilians — they’re a big help to us, so there’s an array of things while we have progress.