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

Christie cites Camden's move to county-wide force as financial model, cops call it union busting

Members of Camden's county-wide police force.
Members of Camden's county-wide police force.

Gun crime in the state’s capitol city has spiked this year -- punctuated by a record number of murders that has city officials facing angry residents and begging for help from the governor.

Thirty-three people had been killed in Trenton before the end of August, two more than the previous high of 31, which occurred in 2005. Local statistics on file with the state police show that 31.8 percent more crimes were committed with a gun through July this year in Trenton than through the same time period last year. Newark is facing a similar surge in violence, with a dozen murders so far in September, bringing the total for the year to 64.

The increase in murders in Trenton comes a little more than a year after the city laid off 105 officers, about one-third of its police force, to help balance its budget in the wake of cuts in state aid and the imposition of a 2 percent budget cap on all towns in the state. The Newark force was reduced by more than 200 during the same time period.

Trenton officials blame the state’s aid and cap policies. They say the cuts forced Trenton to lay off more than 100 police officers, which in turn has led to an increase in gang activity and killings. Mayor Tony Mack, who has been indicted on corruption charges and has faced calls to resign from Christie, members of the state Legislature, and other city officials and residents, is seeking more than $10 million in aid to hire officers.

Christie has said he will not work with the mayor, but others -- including members of the city council and the state legislative delegation representing the city -- are calling for help, as well.

“Trenton is in the middle of a crisis and we need assistance from the governor,” Trenton City Councilwoman Kathy McBride said. “We do not have any money and we have a limited amount of officers due to budget cuts.”

While Christie refuses to deal with the mayor, his administration has deployed state police officers to the city to beef up patrols, and acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman has mandated that prosecutors not plead down gun-related charges in exchange for a conviction as a way of increasing jail time for those arrested.

In addition, Christie has recommended that Trenton look to Camden as a model for how to address its growing violent-crime problem. Earlier this year, Camden disbanded its police force and contracted with Camden County to provide police services, which city and county officials have called an early success.

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