Newark cops grapple with rising murder rate

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Military Park is a shining example of the new Newark. People are outside on a beautiful day, it has free Wi-Fi, and national chains like Nike, Starbucks, and soon, Whole Foods are located there. But the new Newark is plagued by an old problem: a rising murder rate and an undermanned police department.

We went to the Newark Police headquarters looking for answers. Six people were murdered in a 72-hour period over the weekend -- a lot for a city of just under 300,000 people.

Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose says it is reflective of a disturbing trend -- an 8 percent rise in homicides so far this year over 2015.

"What we're seeing so far, talking to the Essex County Prosecutor's office, which investigates the homicides, is that there is no connection to all the homicides," Ambrose says.  "What we're seeing is they're all over disputes, drugs or domestic violence."
Ambrose says other violent crime is actually down 15 percent.

Something else that has declined: the number of police officers. In 2010, Newark had about 1,400. This year, the city has just more than 900. He says the department, which is under federal review, is in the rebuilding process.

"The person who lives on the block where there was a shooting, where there was a murder, they're not going to feel safe.  I think it is important to deploy police officers in these areas where crime is occuring to reduce the level of fear and let the people know they are not going to be the next victim," Ambrose says.

Ambrose says he is determined to turn the murder rate around and says 80 new officers added this past spring are a sign of hope. Ambrose says another 135 officers are in the academy and will hit the streets in January.

Another sign of progress: 911 calls are being handled more quickly by Newark Police operators, instead of being forwarded to Jersey City but some lifelong residents believe as much as they love Brick City, there is a long way to go.