Friday, April 02, 2010

Newark, N.J., marks first murder-free month in 44 years

Brett Michael Dykes is a national affairs writer for Yahoo! News
Thu Apr 1, 12:45 pm ET

In the annals of American urban decay, Newark, N.J., has long stood apart. Five of Newark's last seven mayors have been indicted on criminal charges, and in 1996, Money magazine named Newark — a city of around 280,000 just eight miles outside of New York City — the "Most Dangerous City" in America. In explaining its choice, Money reported that one in every 25 Newark residents had been the victim of a violent crime at some point.

Boy, how times have changed.

Fourteen years after winning that dubious distinction, Newark is in the midst of a drastic turnaround. And today marks a significant milestone in that shift: March 2010 is now in the books as the first month in 44 years that no one was murdered in New Jersey's largest city. In a story time-stamped at 12:01 a.m. this morning, NJ.com reports:

It's been 32 days since a homicide took place in Newark, marking the first time there has been a slay-free calendar month in the city since 1966.

Police Director Garry McCarthy said he hopes to best a 43-day period from March to April of 2008, the longest span of time without a slaying in the city since 1961. 10 homicides have occurred in Newark since January 1st, and none have taken place in the South Ward, long believed to be Newark's most dangerous section.

Most observers credit the city's turnaround to the aggressive efforts of Mayor Cory Booker, elected in 2006 on pledge to restore the city's economy and civic order. Booker may be best know in the media world for a fake feud he had with Conan O'Brien, but he's an accomplished civic reformer. Prior to his election, Booker lived for eight years in one of the city's more notorious housing projects where he organized tenants to fight the drug gangs that riddled the area.

Shortly after his inauguration, Booker appointed MCarthy, the former NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations, to overhaul Newark's beleaguered police department. He collaborated with McCarthy on improved law-enforcement measures such as round-the-clock security cameras to monitor criminal activity throughout the city. Booker has also made a point of patrolling the streets of the city in late evening hours in the company of his security staff.

"We're really encouraged," Booker said in an interview with Yahoo! News about Newark's landmark month without a murder. "This is just another milestone that proves we're making progress in our city. It's really helping pulling the city together."

He also says that he plans to keep building on the achievement. "We're going to continue to push beyond what people think is impossible. We want to show the rest of the country what's possible by doing what we're doing."

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