Targeted enforcement, increased police numbers, new technology, and more community policing are being credited for helping to reduce Jersey City’s overall crime statistics for 2018.
Although the city’s use of a CompStat program to tabulate crime statistics came up with slightly different numbers than the Uniform Crime Report, statistics for most crimes in both showed a downward trend.
“Shootings are down 30 percent,” said Mayor Steven Fulop, during a meeting with the press on Dec. 17 that included Public Safety Director James Shea, Police Chief Michael Kelly, OEM Coordinator W. Greg Kierce and Police Division Director Tawana Moody.
The group unveiled a year-end report on crime that showed 69 shootings as of the end of November 2018 as opposed to 96 in 2017, and 102 in 2016.
“Our goal going into this year was to reduce shootings by 20 percent,” Kelly said.
Homicides also dropped from 20 in 2017 to 15 in 2018.
Robberies declined from 371 to 361, as did aggravated assaults, 444 to 350, and burglaries from 1,112 to 1,001.
Larceny and theft, however, did rise, from 2,560 to 3,222, and car thefts rose from 413 to 501.
While the police department continued to remove illegal guns from the street, confiscations were lower in 2018 at 257 than in 2017 when the department recovered 318.
Kelly said the success at reducing gun violence and murders may have had to do with a number of factors which included an increase in the number of police officers deployed on the street.
There are more cops
Since 2013, the department has added 154 police officers to the force, through a series of hirings that also made up for retirements.
“We have 60 more police on the street this year than we did last year,” he said. “You can’t do anything without personnel. Having more than 900 officers makes an extraordinary difference.”
He said the overall force is younger and more aggressive, allowing them to make more arrests.
Kelly also noted that the department has become more flexible, and can deploy officers where they are needed at any given moment.
Fulop said this strategy showed success in Marion Gardens, which was a problem area last year, with more than 10 shootings, but only one reported shooting this year.
Shea said the department this year has deployed officers to fixed assignments to known problem areas.
“These are places that we know incidents will occur,” Shea said. “But apparently because we have officers there now, incidents have not occurred. We have officers there 24/7.”
This kind of deployment differs from the Cease Fire Unit that responds after a shooting as occurred. These assigned officers to these areas are designed to prevent shootings.
Kelly, who came on as chief of police last January, also said efforts to build bonds between the cops and the community are improving.
“The tension between the police and community has changed,” he said.
He said the department holds regular meetings with residents to hear their concerns.
“These interactions are good,” he said. “Of course, there are still issues that we continue to deal with on a daily basis, but I would say that every week there are folks in my office that have never had access to the Chief of Police before.”
New cameras help
Crime fighting also got a boost from technology over the last year, as the installs more CCTV cameras in locations identified as high-crime areas.
The city installed 107 new cameras during its first phase in 2017 and an additional 40 in 2018.
These cameras, Shea said, provide real time information as well as high quality images police can use.
Shea said the old system of cameras was not only out of date, but located in areas that weren’t helpful to the police. Patrol officers with the new system will have access to the information from these cameras within minutes, allowing more critical information they might need in solving a crime.
Some of the funding for the new cameras comes from Homeland Security Grants, said Greg Kierce, although Fulop admitted what isn’t covered by grants will be paid for out of the municipal budget.
No more off duty jobs for cops
The police department, however, was not without controversy in 2018. Indictments and convictions of police officers in regard to off duty assignments forced the city to phase out the program.
For decades, police officers were hired by construction contractors and others to provide traffic and safety protection during construction or even transportation of materials to and from work sites. This also included serving as security for various businesses and public agencies. But an investigation by the FBI uncovered widespread abuse of the system, including officers that did not show up, but were paid.
Rather than revamp the system, the city decided to phase it out. The last of these assignments will conclude in early January, 2019, Fulop said.
“Companies will have to hire their own trained personnel,” Fulop said.
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“Our goal going into this year was to reduce shootings by 20 percent.” — Mike Kelly