By Michael Hill
In 2011, Paterson laid off 125 police officers in a budget crisis. The year after, non-fatal shootings almost doubled and since the layoffs, homicides have risen by 30 percent.
“So the increase in the homicides is the inability to do the extra enforcement efforts,” said Paterson Police Chief William Fraher.
But the pastor of Bethel AME Church here in Paterson says he doesn’t believe there’s a correlation between the police layoffs and the increased number of homicides. He says it has more to do with domestic violence and gangs.
And now: “They seem to be working harder with less people. And in my opinion, they’re doing a great job. Just look at how quiet it is around here. This was never before. We have a child care center here. At one time parents were afraid to bring their children here because they didn’t want to walk through the things that were going on around here,” said Bethel AME Church Pastor Allan Boyer.
Paterson gets enforcement help from other agencies like the sheriff’s department.
The chief says Paterson has 382 officers and needs to hire 65 to 70. He says Paterson is New Jersey’s third largest city but has the lowest ratio of police to population and of the state’s 15 biggest cities, it ranks ninth in violent crime.
“Paterson is one of those places that you mention and people cringe. But it’s really not as bad a place as people make it out to. It’s a fairly safe place,” Fraher said.
“Absolutely, we need more detectives,” said Paterson Police Detectives Bureau Capt. Richard Reyes.
Reyes is the captain of the detectives bureau. He says the bureau solves 80 to 90 percent of the city’s homicides — one of the highest rates in the state — through a rapport with residents.
“It’s really just good old-fashioned police work. One of the things that I remind my detectives is the time to make friends is before you need them,” he said.
Reyes is part of the multi-agency Safe City Initiative that calls in known felons and offers them social services, job training and more.
The message: “We say, look, we’ve identified you individuals as potentially being the next person to be killed or the next person to be involved in a murder, which means then you can spend most of your life in jail,” Reyes said.
“This initiative has given new opportunities to people who have found themselves to be hopeless,” said Safe City Initiative Program Manager Rick Prince.
Paterson native Prince retired from 35 years in the corporate world, volunteered six-plus years in the city’s ceasefire initiative and is the program manager of the Safe City Initiative.
What would happen if there wasn’t a program like this in Paterson?
“It frightens me to even speculate,” Prince said.
Prince says the Safe City Initiative makes offers to nearly 200 ex-offenders a year.