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During Cory Booker’s first year as Newark’s mayor, in 2006, there were 107 murders in his city. By 2009, that number was down to 68. That 36 percent drop in homicides helped establish the reputation that has propelled Booker to national prominence.
In 2010, however, 167 Newark police officers were laid off, a 13 percent drop in the force. City and state budget problems were the reason, of course. The murder rate jumped to 90 that year. There would be 96 in 2011 and 92 in 2012.
This year–Booker’s last in city hall before he potentially relocates to the Senate chambers in D.C.–was looking better. The city remains on pace for less homicides this year than in each of the past three.
The past two weeks, however, brought Newark’s public safety challenges back to the front pages. And after three years, the cuts to the police budget produced a sad crescendo: In a 10 day stretch, from Monday August 26 to Wednesday September 4, there were 10 homicides in the city, as well as three more non-fatal shootings and one non-fatal stabbing.
Newark’s police director, Samuel DeMaio, somewhat tried to downplay this heavy concentration of violence. He said that seven of the victims appeared to have been specifically targeted and that at least five of the victims had ties to drug or gang activity.
“Unfortunately the lifestyle that they are leading is one of violence,” he told the Star-Ledger.
He noted that the murder rate was not rising this year. He explained that the bloody stretch was more chance than trend.
“It’s just kind of a random spark-up,” he told United Press International. “There’s been no change in the deployment strategy we used all summer.”
In some ways, a “random spark-up” like this is more concerning than, say, a turf battle between gangs or a retaliatory cycle stemming from personal beefs, which have direct causes that can be addressed. This was just a lot of unrelated violence happening at the same time.
These 10 days in Newark covered a wide range of violence and victims. There was the 14-year-old killed on Wednesday who reportedly had a handgun and heroin in his bedroom. There was the 20-year-old woman shot in her car and the 23-year-old woman stabbed outside an apartment, both apparent victims of domestic violence. There was the 20-year-old Pizza Hut delivery man gunned down while making his rounds. And there was the 24-year-old woman who caught a stray bullet while standing in a playground.
Earlier this week, Newark police launched the “Blue Zone Deployment,” an initiative to increase patrols in high-crime areas. Meanwhile, Booker’s attention, largely focused on his Senate campaign as of late, seemed to have turned back to his city. Around 30 minutes before the 10th homicide–the 14-year-old shot on Wednesday night–Booker tweeted, “Out with Police Director DeMaio tonight visiting with residents and reviewing our increased police operations.”