NEWARK - Whatever transpires in Newark this summer, it won't be a repeat of last year's explosion of violence that left nearly three dozen people dead, Mayor Cory Booker said Friday as he announced a host of anti-crime programs.
"That will not happen, ever again," Booker said emphatically in reference to Newark's 35 murders from June 1 to Sept. 1, the city's most violent summer in decades.
Central to the initiative is a series of programs meant to build bridges between police and city residents. It will start with getting more officers onto the street and continue with neighborhood meetings in which residents can discuss concerns directly with police.
Officers will also tour the town with residents to identify problem areas such as nuisance bars and derelict buildings that have become havens for drug dealing and other crimes, Booker said.
Accomplishing that with a police force slashed by nearly 15 percent will be a challenge but not an insurmountable one, said acting Police Director Samuel DeMaio, referring to last year's layoffs of more than 160 officers. He described a plan to have officers and supervisors who normally work Monday to Friday scheduled for four days in the office and one in the neighborhoods.
James Stewart Jr., vice president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police, said the scheduling is not a new concept but one that could pay dividends.
"It gets more cops out on street, but by the same token, their workload doesn't decrease, so they have four days' to do five days' worth of work," he said. "But I'm sure other cops on the street will welcome the help."
In addition, Booker said the city's 11 p.m. curfew for minors will be enforced "with a vigor not seen in a long, long time," a line that drew applause from the crowd at the Calvary Gospel Church. City recreation centers and pools will have their hours extended or modified to stay open in the evenings, and the city will offer more events such as outdoor movies and concerts than in past years, he said.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray said her office would loan investigators from its gang and narcotic unit to assist Newark's police department this summer. She said the county and city had partnered to fund the use of a helicopter to aid in vehicle pursuits.
Overall, violent crime has risen in New Jersey's largest city in the last two years after steep declines the previous two years. Last week, an off-duty police officer getting a slice of pizza at a neighborhood fast-food joint was fatally shot and two others were injured. Over the Memorial Day weekend, four people were killed and eight others wounded in a series of shootings.