As reported by Bob Braun on nj.com, within months after more than 160 of its police officers were laid off, Newark erupted into a spasm of violence, including the killing of a policeman and one day when 13 people were shot, one fatally. But did the layoffs lead to the violence? And what does the future hold for a densely urbanized state where police face cuts in local, state, and federal funding?
The answer is: no one really knows. But the future looks scary. And complicated. “There is no data linking crime rates with police layoffs because this has never happened before,” says Dennis Kenney, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and editor of Police Quarterly. Kenney, with a doctorate at Rutgers, believes police services will be “greatly eroded and degraded” because of cuts in public spending. “Even though no one can now prove a correlation between crime and police layoffs, it’s hard to argue that anything else could occur.”
Richard Weinblatt, a former New Jersey resident and national consultant on police issues, says police escaped cuts in the past. No politician, he says, “wanted to be seen as soft on crime.” But now, even cops are not immune. “No one seems interested in public safety issues-it’s just the economy, an obsession with how people are going to survive.”
The level of public discourse can be incendiary. Consider the warnings from State Senate President Stephen Sweeney who said people would “die” because of cuts to services, including police, in Governor Chris Christie’s budget. Christie has called pay and benefits to police in New Jersey “obscene.” All that erodes support for police-and all agencies that rely on tax dollars.
According to Braun, Kenney and others are right. The historical data does not exist to show laying off police officers leads to increased crime. But, the logic is also inescapable. “It certainly would be beneficial to get the cops we lost back,” says Samuel DeMaio, Newark’s acting police director.
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage managed to hire three of those laid off cops; he freed up funds by persuading senior officers to retire. But it was a trade-off he said, “You can learn only so much from the academy, learning the streets means working with veterans.”
Moreover, he’s not optimistic. Caps on spending, loss of state aid will catch up to the city. “We need visible police presence-the guns, the drugs, and the gangs are not going away.”
To read Braun’s full article, click on the nj.com link above.