Before Mayor Ras Baraka embarks on his 3.0 town hall tour of the city, he attended the Weequahic Neighborhood Watch Association meeting on Monday night in the South Ward, where he was formerly a councilman. Residents of the historic neighborhood gathered at the home of fellow residents Ryan and Charity Haygood for the association’s first meeting of the year, with a comprehensive agenda brimming with questions about previous incidents in the neighborhood, current issues affecting the neighborhood and a list of best practices to improve communication between residents and the police department.
The group was also joined by newly appointed acting public safety director Anthony Ambrose, who officially assumed his position on Monday, as well as Lt. Darnell Henry, who will take on the position of Police Chief after current Police Chief Anthony Campos officially resigns. Although the agenda featured issues like persistent graffiti in neighborhoods and proposed development projects, the topic on everyone’s mind was public safety.
Current South Ward councilman John S. James lauded the mayor’s recent decision to consolidate the previous police and fire director positions, as well as the city’s emergency management operations, under the supervision of Ambrose. He stated that although the city is still struggling after the 167 police layoffs that occurred in 2010, the police director will be able “to make sure that whatever vehicles and manpower the city of Newark has gets moved efficiently to respond to any incident regarding any of the departments.”
Ambrose, who is a 20-year Newark police department veteran and former police chief and director, broke down his initial 45-day plan to improve public safety and community relations. His first line of action, which is a direct request from the mayor, is to deploy more police officers on the street, a tactic that residents unanimously agreed would reduce crime and promote better police-community relations.
“Years ago, we had a lot more walking officers. I want to go back to walking officers. That’s important,” said Ambrose.
2015’s bleak crime statistics were impossible to deny. Ambrose admitted that a large number of Newark’s more 100 homicides from 2015 were concentrated in the West and South wards, and Mayor Baraka eventually reinforced Ambrose’s comments by stating that data-driven research by an organization known as Safer Newark Council showed that 80 percent of the blocks in Newark experienced no violent crime at all (this is typical and in line with the “law of the few”, also sometimes called the “80-20” rule, which holds that 80 percent of effects come from only 20 percent of causes).
Another item on Ambrose’s agenda is to employ the use of a community compstat. The compstat approach, which was introduced in 1994 by Police Commissioner William Bratton in New York, used a data driven model to analyze trends and develop strategic approaches to dealing with crime. Ambrose notes that taking this approach will also help hold individual police officers accountable for their performance.
A process that will allow residents to be more informed about why the police department makes their decisions was also on Ambrose’s list.
“You need to know what the police department does and why we do it, because information is important,” said Ambrose.
Taking it one step further, Ambrose revealed plans to release a community satisfaction survey to gauge residents’ overall satisfaction with the police department. “I’m not doing this to get police officers in trouble,” said Ambrose. “I just want to know what they aren’t doing so we can start doing it.”
Mayor Baraka noted that job creation in the city is also a crime reducing-tactic that his administration is undertaking.
“I believe that it [solving crime] means something other than just [a] police approach. We have to do other things, and one of them is employment. We are getting ready to shift our focus completely on job creation and job development,” said Baraka.
The mayor promised that his administration would use a strong-handed approach to connect local residents to jobs, stating that his administration is in talks with the unions at the Port Authority because “the number of Newark residents that work there is dismal, the number of African Americans that work there is even more dismal, and the number of women that work there is more dismal than that.”
According to the mayor, other approaches to crime like Occupy The Block and the Block Watch Associations “empower residents and give the city an opportunity to get information that they wouldn’t normally get.”
The murder of Dawn Reddick, a 29-year-old Newark native who returned to the city to visit family in the summer of 2011 was a high-priority issue for Monday’s meeting. The shooting, which took place on Maple Ave in the South Ward, still remains unsolved and is said to be one of the many things that spurred the Weequahic Neighborhood Watch Association into action. The association developed six years ago, but since Reddick’s death is nearing its 5th anniversary, the group has stepped up their game in pushing for a safer neighborhood.
“What sets this neighborhood watch apart is that it’s not just one block, it’s a collective of block associations, and we said we’re going to advocate for ourselves and our communities and come together and hold our elected officials accountable” said Sandra Hughes, a Weequahic resident.
- For more information about Mayor Baraka’s ward-by-ward tour, visit here
- South Ward Councilman, John S. James will host his next community meeting on Saturday, January 16th from 9-11 am at the Tucker Center (27 Elizabeth Ave, Newark, NJ 07108)
- South Ward community meetings are scheduled every third Saturday of the month