ATLANTIC CITY — A bright yellow backhoe sat on top of five feet of rubble in the middle of Keener Avenue in the resort’s Westside neighborhood Thursday evening. A bedroom door flapped on its hinges inside half a row home, the house’s insides exposed.
“These communities used to be thriving with families and kids,” said Indra Owens, 37, pointing to a vacant lot beside a boarded-up home stuffed with trash and couches. “What’s happening is, when these houses start becoming this, it fosters an atmosphere for crime.”
Police have been working to put the emphasis on places like vacant lots and abandoned homes via Risk Terrain Modeling, a method that analyzes crime data to compute geographical risk factors for crime in a community.
“We like that philosophy, and we think that goes along well with our community policing policy,” Deputy Chief James Sarkos said. “Not to target people because they’re in a specific location, but to target that location itself.”
For example, the city’s many convenience stores proved to be a risk factor for crime, according to the model, so the department responded by assigning officers to interact with store owners each shift, Sarkos said. They’ve done the same with vacant lots and rooming houses.
“What we found is that (officers are) getting out of their cars and going into these locations and it’s good community policing and it gives us better visibility in these areas that we need to target, that are priorities,” he said.
Joel Caplan, a Rutgers University criminal justice associate professor, and his colleague Leslie Kennedy developed Risk Terrain Modeling in 2009. Caplan said the method is working in Atlantic City to reduce crime, saying RTM has had “significant implications for reductions of crime in the areas they focused on and citywide.”
Caplan said the model is a predictive tool that looks at the relationships between the crimes that are occurring and the features in the environment — liquor stores, pawn shops, grocery stores, parking lots, fast food restaurants, parks, schools — places that could be intuitively risky and others that aren’t.
“It informs decisions about what’s attracting illegal behavior and then allows the decision-makers to come up with strategies to intervene at those locations, not by focusing on the people but by figuring out what the contexts are that attract illegal behavior and trying to change the environment to change those contexts," he said. "And that’s what Atlantic City did successfully.”
Atlantic City's crime rate has been dropping for 26 years, according to New Jersey Municipal-County Offense & Demographic Data. The city's 2018 year-end report showed violent crime decreased by nearly 30 percent and non-violent crime decreased by nearly 32 percent from 2017.
But crime rates are not as low as state leaders would like to see, with few residents or visitors reporting a sense of safety and order, according to Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy who wrote a report released last year that outlines recommendations for the city to move forward.
Some residents say poverty, addiction, mental health problems, abandoned homes and other squalor are working to keep the city a haven for crime.
In places that are poorer, there is more street crime, said Nathan Link, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University–Camden.
“It doesn’t mean that any poor individual is necessarily more criminal than a rich individual,” he cautioned. “There are lots of poor people who are completely law-abiding, and there are many wealthy criminals.”
ATLANTIC CITY — Just before dawn, a small team gathers inside a conference room on the secon…
Social and historical forces have created high-poverty areas that have a lot of crime, Link said, adding the least well-off people are the ones who tend to be stuck in those types of places without jobs and, as a result, alternative — often illegal — economies spring up, creating a cycle of poverty and crime.
“It has nothing to do with the people in these areas being intrinsically bad,” Link said. “It has to do with some areas being so deeply disadvantaged that many of their residents struggle through life, and the broader community doesn’t have the capacity or resources to reduce crime.”
Owens said she isn't insensitive to the problems the addicted and sick are dealing with, but it’s “out of control."
”That itself breeds crime,” Owens said. “When you’re hungry and you want to get high and you’re in a strange place, it breeds crime. You used to be able to really pinpoint the neighborhoods where you could maybe still sleep with your door open, or unlocked. That’s nowhere now.”
Atlantic City Crime Data
|Year||Crime Index Total||Violent Crime||Non-Violent Crime||Crime Rate per 1,000||Violent Crime Rate per 1,000||Nonviolent Crime Rate per 1,000||Murder||Rape||Robbery||Aggravated Assault||Nonviolent Burglary||Nonviolent Larceny||Nonviolent Motor Vehicle Theft||Arson|