Declining numbers in most crimes last year show efforts to curb problems in Atlantic County's two most troubled cities are working, leaders said Thursday.
Richard Stockton College presented a Data Walk to show what numbers say about crime, education, unemployment and other issues in Atlantic City and Pleasantville.
While Atlantic City saw a near-record number of 18 homicides last year, there was a decline in other crimes such as robberies and motor vehicle thefts. So far this year, there have been three homicides in Atlantic City and none in Pleasantville.
As expected, the data showed unemployment and dropout rates in both towns are well above the state average.
"Poverty is key," said Marissa Levy, associate professor of criminology, who led the presentation.
But, she warned the group, "the data only shows part of the picture." It is meant to help focus the collaborative efforts combating the two cities' problems in the "holistic approach" of a Municipal Planning Board.
There are currently six boards in the state, including in Vineland and Camden, which bring together various factions such as law enforcement, community groups and schools to bring solutions from all sides. This is the first to incorporate two towns, with Stockton as its university sponsor.
The numbers presented "are important for us to understand what the issues are and help coordinate our efforts," explained Assistant Attorney General Wanda Moore, who has helped in forming the planning boards.
Levy said it's important not to blame "the good people for doing good work," even if the efforts aren't working. Instead, "you say (the problem) happened, and figure out a way to solve it."
"I'm excited," Moore said of the two-town board. "We have a lot of resources working with the community already."
Those include the Coalition for a Safe Community - formerly Stop the Violence of Atlantic County - which will have its first Community Walk of the summer Friday beginning 7:30 p.m. at the All Wars Memorial Building in Atlantic City, across from Stanley Holmes Village.
Coalition President Perry Mays said the numbers show the efforts are working - and are being focused in the right places.
"It helps target the areas of concern," Atlantic City Public Safety Director Will Glass said of the data.
"Hopefully, it will help us put better interventions in place to alleviate a lot of the problems," Mays said.
The data are "the next step" in the process, acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said.
"It's really a fascinating idea. They're looking not to waste any resources by looking at what really gets results," he said.
Part of the research has included graduate student Megan McConaghy interviewing those already incarcerated, Levy explained. McConaghy also compiled much of the data that was presented Thursday.
"We want to know from these offenders why they committed these crimes," Levy said.
Youth is a big focus for Atlantic City and Pleasantville. The age of offenders peak at 25 to 29 in Atlantic City, with Pleasantville offenders even younger, the data shows.
Needs include community policing, youth safety and violence prevention, and an increased sense of community, Levy said.
There are several plans already in the works, including the coalition's Project 365, which will be announced at National Night Out next month. Each Atlantic City ward is being asked to identify its most prevalent problem, which will then be addressed over the next year.
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What: First Community Walk of the summer
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Meets at the All Wars Memorial Building, 1510 Adriatic Ave., Atlantic City