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Violent Crimes Climb as Police Layoffs Take Their Toll on NJ's Troubled Cities

Trenton is not alone in cutting the size of its police department. Municipal police departments employed 5.8 percent fewer police officers in 2011 than in 2010, and there were 2,272 fewer police officers employed by state, county, local, and other agencies in 2011, according to the state Uniform Crime Report. Statewide figures for 2012 have not been released, but police and union officials say most of the cuts were put in place in 2011 in response to aid cuts and the new 2 percent budget cap, which limits the growth in the total raised by taxes.

Urban areas, according to state figures, have been hit hardest. Each of the six cities designated by the state police Uniform Crime Report as “major urban” -- Camden, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, and Trenton -- reduced the number of officers on its payroll between 2010 and 2011, which is the last year for which statewide figures are available. Four of those cities -- Camden, Newark, Paterson, and Trenton -- saw a reduction of more than 100 police officers and together account for one of every four police cut. Three of them -- Camden, Newark and Trenton -- also saw an increase in violent crime during the same period, while the six taken together saw a 6 percent increase in violent crimes and an 8.5 percent increase in murders.

Overall, the “urban 15” -- the major urban and nine other large urban or urban-suburban communities -- saw the number of police officers decrease by 711, about one-third of all police jobs lost between 2010 and 2011. Violent crime in the urban 15 increased 2.4 percent during the same period, fueled by a 6.9 percent increase in robberies and 5 percent increase in murders.

“The longer we allow these gangs and guns and drugs to continue taking over the city, the worse things will become and the harder it will be to fix,” Turner said.

According to the state Uniform Crime Report, violent crime in Trenton increased 0.8 percent between 2010 and 2011, from 1,201 to 1,211. Murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault are listed as violent crimes for the purposes of the UCR. According to preliminary figures available from the state police, there were 1,251 violent crimes in 2012, a 3.3 percent increase. Figures for 2013 are incomplete and have not been verified by the state police, but they list 772 violent crimes through July, compared with 808 through the same period last year. However, gun-related crime increased from 278 to 340, a 22 percent increase during the same period.

Several other New Jersey cities are reporting increased violent crime, including Atlantic City in Atlantic County; Asbury Park and Neptune city and township in Monmouth County; Passaic City in Passaic County; Irvington, East Orange and Orange in Essex County.

Jonette C. Smart, president of the Trenton chapter of the NAACP, said in a written response to questions that state and local budget cuts “have had a devastating effect on the city as a whole and particularly on the public safety issues that we are facing.” She said the governor should be helping cities like Trenton and that the status of the mayor should not matter.

“Our governor has stated that he will not do anything because our mayor has been indicted,” she said. “So he has essentially told the law-abiding taxpaying constituents of Trenton we don’t matter.”

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