When a veteran Jersey City police inspector asked a reporter in April, “When are you guys going to report that crime is down?” the reporter shot back, “When crime is down.”
After receiving updated statistics last week, there is evidence to support for both sides of the issue. In several important categories, crime is down in Jersey City for the first three months of this year over the same period last year – but in two alarming categories, murders and rapes, it is up.
The statistics for the month of April were not available because the police were awaiting validation of the numbers from the N.J. State Police before those numbers can be made public.
The public can view crime stats on the police department’s website: www.njjcpd.org, part of their Compstat program utilizing computer technology and meetings.
Crime stats collected by the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) show a 27 percent decrease in robbery, 19 percent decrease in aggravated assault, 15 percent for burglary, 20 percent in larceny, 19 percent in auto theft, and a whopping 53 percent decrease for arson.
However, there was a 75 percent increase in rape and a 20 percent increase for homicides over the same three-month period last year.
Police Chief Thomas Comey said in an interview last week that overall, crime is declining, and he took issue with the media and with some candidates running for office in recent months implying the police were not doing enough to stop crime.
“Both being in a very tough economy and being in a political season, [the Police Department] understood as an organization that we would come under attack,” Comey said. “But when we were reviewing our crime stats and saw what we had been doing as an organization, we realized that we had done everything we could do with the assets we have.”
The Jersey City Police Department currently has 894 members on the force, including 607 police officers and 287 of higher rank.
Murders up and down
Five homicides occurred from January through March 2008, but in the same period this year, there have been six. Several of the homicides this year have been attributed to gang activity. In some cases, police believe they were revenge killings.
However, including April and the first half of May, the murder rate is actually going down.
Comey said he was a “little offended” by a line in the May 17 Jersey City Reporter’s story on Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s re-election that stated, “With the city’s murder rate up and taxes also rising, how did the mayor win such a landslide?”
Comey noted that as of Monday, May 18 (the day of the interview) there had been 11 homicides in Jersey City. The most recent was last Sunday, with a strangling in Jersey City Heights. This is two fewer murders than the 13 by May 18 of last year.
When asked if there were concerns about the homicide numbers going up as the summer begins, Comey said there were talks with other law enforcement agencies in January about having a “narrowly defined strategic plan” that would be implemented by the summer. He did not get into specifics.
The plan would concentrate on areas where there was a high volume of crime in the past, especially homicides.
He alluded to how such a plan could work when he looked back at the 50 arrests made in raids last month in the city’s Greenville and Bergen-Lafayette sections. The raids were carried out by the JCPD, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and several other agencies.
Rape on the rise
The number of rapes this year has climbed high.
Last year, from January from March, the number was eight. But in the three-month period this year, it was 14.
“We don’t fudge the numbers, and sooner or later people have to realize that this is a safer city.” – Thomas Comey
Comey did reassure that there wasn’t some “serial rapist on the loose” in Jersey City but would not comment further.
Significant decreases in robbery, assault, car theft
The crime categories on the decline from January through March 2008 compared to the same period this year are: Robbery – from 286 to 210, Aggravated Assault – 214 down to 173, Burglary – 394 down to 334, Larceny/Theft – 945 down to 759, Auto Theft – 260 down to 210 and Arson – 26 down to 12.
Comey said the Police Department was “prepared” to see a rise in several types of crimes in a depressed economy. But he said the police force was successful in bringing down crime with the help of a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice this year that allowed them to employ “additional resources” such as more officers without putting a burden on the taxpayer.
More importantly, Comey initiated a program in March increasing the number of police officers patrolling high crime areas by 15 percent during peak hours (Thursday to Sunday from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.), which he said has produced results.
All the same, Comey knows he will still have doubters.
“When people see our crime stats, they like to be somewhat pessimistic about our Compstat reports that we are doing this and doing that,” Comey said. “But I tell people, ‘Everybody looks at our crime stats.’ We don’t fudge the numbers, and sooner or later people have to realize that this is a safer city.”
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.