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Newark Budget Cuts Mean Less Police Presence


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

As cities across the country struggle to close huge budget deficits, not even the police are being spared. Providence, Rhode Island - here in California, Sacramento and San Jose - all stand to lose dozens of officers in coming weeks. Newark, New Jersey could suggest what's ahead. It's been operating with fewer police for months. Brian Reed reports on crime there since more than 160 members of the force were laid off in December.

BRIAN REED: The last time Georgia Wise saw her daughter-in-law was a Thursday in April. Arlene Fields was visiting her kids, who live with Wise because she was staying in a shelter, working through a drug addiction.�They were excited to see their mom. They ate dinner and laughed a lot watching a movie: "Bad Boys 2."

Ms. GEORGIA WISE: It just was such a good, happy day. I'm saying I'm so glad it was a happy day for them. You know what I'm saying? For all of us. (Unintelligible) bitter. I'm so thankful for that. So thankful.

REED: Less than an hour later, Wise's daughter-in-law was heading to the bus, when she was shot in a dispute that didn't involve her. The 42-year-old died on the sidewalk.

It's one in a string of recent incidents that have Newark residents on edge and Georgia Wise upset.

Ms. WISE: You don't want to start me on this one. Why are you going to lay off all the police officers? Why would you lay off all the police officers?

REED: It was 162 officers who were let go, out of more than 1,200. And NPR obtained internal crime data for the city for six and a half months since the layoffs took effect. If you compare those statistics to the same time period last year, murders are up 52 percent. Car thefts, 33 percent. Robberies, 16 percent. And the number of shooting victims saw a 66 percent increase. During all this, cops performed about 4,000 fewer arrests.

Mr. JAMES STEWART (Fraternal Order of Police): We didn't have 162 guys tucked away in a closet and said, you know, break glass in case of emergency.

REED: Detective James Stewart is vice president of the local police union. He says the remaining cops are stretched thin, making it hard for them to be out in neighborhoods doing proactive policing.�

Mr. STEWART: That takes away from the fear on the street for the bad guy. But as time goes on and they realize we're short-staffed, they're going to be more brazen carrying their weapons. That's going to lead to more crime.

REED: Two other cities whose police forces have been cut - nearby Camden and Oakland, California - have also seen car theft, murders, and other violent crime go up. But Jon Shane, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former Newark police captain, warns that crime stats are affected by so many variables, it's impossible to blame those spikes directly on a reduction in police. Plus, he says, it's just not a long enough data sample.

Professor JON SHANE (John Jay College of Criminal Justice): There's generally no direct correlation between the total number of police officers you have and your crime rate. It's more about what the police do than it is about sheer volume.

REED: This is a point that Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, stresses. His city faced a $100 million deficit in 2010, due largely to losses in tax revenue and state aid. He laid off the cops after his administration and the police union couldn't agree on concessions. And to cope, Booker says he reorganized the police department to make sure the same number of officers are still patrolling the street.�

Mayor CORY BOOKER (Democrat, Newark): Would I welcome another 500, 600, 700 officers? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, we have to focus on driving crime down. We have the ability and the resources necessary to do that.

REED: A few blocks from Booker's office is one of the busiest retail corners in Newark. This is where Arlene Fields was shot and killed. On a lamppost, there's a poster with messages on it like: Miss your smile and knowledge. And: Always will remember you.

As I was reading these, a nearby street vendor called me over. His name's Kevin Snow and he's been selling clothes here for 17 years. He says to him crime hasn't seemed this bad since Booker became mayor in 2006.

Mr. KEVIN SNOW (Street Vendor): The crooks don't take a day off. They don't get laid off. No, they keep doing and doing what they doing. But now they just run rampant through the city, robbing and shooting people.

REED: I just saw you talking to two officers. What were you saying to them?

Mr. SNOW: How we glad to see them back here. How we glad to see the police patrolling the area, it make you feel safe.

REED: And what did they say?

Mr. SNOW: Oh, they go to go. They got a call.

REED: This is at least the perception among lots of Newarkers I talked to, that the police just aren't around as much anymore. Snow sees this intersection as an example. A few minutes earlier, there were five police cars surrounding this spot. Now all the cops are gone and you can hear the sirens in the distance.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Reed.

INSKEEP: The kind of reporting on local communities that's hard to get anywhere else. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Reed