The Atlantic City Police Department has made dramatic and measurable progress the past five years in reducing crime and the use of force by its officers. Its recent report on last year continues the very positive trend.
Now what’s needed is for the perceptions of the media and public to catch up.
The turnaround is well-known locally. We noticed and praised its early days, after new Police Chief Henry White in 2013 started implementing many reforms, including a new Division of Professional Standards, widespread use of police cameras, an outside Internal Affairs hearing officer, and better oversight of off-duty security work by officers.
Violent crime dropped 29 percent from then to the 425 cases in 2017, which includes homicide, rape, aggravated and simple assault, and robbery. Non-violent or property crimes — auto theft, larceny and burglary — fell more, 41 percent to 1,732 cases.
The numbers for 2018 released recently showed violent crime in Atlantic City declined another 30 percent, and property crimes nearly 32 percent. All forms of violent crime declined sharply except rape, with 33 reported incidents topping the 22 in 2017. We hope that’s due to a growing willingness of victims to report the crime and of the justice system to pursue such complaints vigorously.
Complaints of police use of excessive force remained much diminished. After averaging 60 a year before Chief White, they plunged 83 percent to about 10 a year. Last year there were nine.
The department is doing a good job where it counts most — in reality, on the street. Since Atlantic City is a tourist destination, though, how the public and the media see its crime and police also counts. While that too is improving, the change is slower and has farther to go.
At the end of February, for example, USA Today published a long report, “Cities where the violent crime rate is soaring in every state in the US.” Atlantic City used to get hammered in such stories, but not this time. The newspaper had to admit, “New Jersey is one of only a handful of states where no metro area with comparable data reported an increase in the incidence of violent crime from 2012 to 2017. … New Jersey is a far safer place than the U.S. as a whole.” This absence of a negative is a positive for the resort.
On the other hand, an otherwise impressive November report on police use of force by NJ Advance Media tarred Atlantic City with its high rate of incidents from 2012-14. Readers had to carefully examine a graphic to notice that the department’s use of force fell 60 percent by 2016.
Atlantic City police are doing a good job of putting their problems behind them. With each passing year, they recede further into the past and out of the memories and perceptions people have about the increasingly safe city.