Despite recent criticisms, Jersey City officials say 2018 crime rates are trending downward

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Jersey City officials presented their annual report on crime rates and public safety measures, emphasizing that the trajectory of the total number of crimes committed is trending downward during a small media presentation yesterday.

By Marc Bussanich/Hudson County View

Mayor Steven Fulop, Public Safety Director James Shea, Police Chief Michael Kelly, OEM Coordinator W, Greg Kierce and Police Division Director Tawana Moody all joined in the mayor’s conference room to review statistics, which indicate a year-over-year reduction in both shootings and homicides in 2018.

According to those, shootings and homicides in 2018 dropped to 69 and 15, respectively, from 96 and 20 in 2017 and 102 and 24 in 2016.

Kelly said that the department had a goal of reducing the number of shootings this year by 20 percent, but the numbers reflect a 30 percent reduction, and he attributed the overall reduction to a number of public safety initiatives, such as the increase in Jersey City police officers from 780 to 940 over the last four years.

“You can’t do anything without personnel. Having more than 900 officers makes an extraordinary difference. When you have more police officers [who] are young and aggressive and make the most arrests and interdict crimes compared to, say, a 25-year veteran, that makes a significant contribution to crime reduction,” Kelly began.

“Another factor is that from day one [of his tenure this year] we’ve shifted deployments based on what is happening in real time. If we had a two shootings or two armed robberies right now, there’d be a deployment flex within the hour.”

Furthermore, Shea also credited “hotspot policing” for the overall reduction in shootings and homicides, which involves a permanent police presence at several locations around the city.

“We looked at shootings going back years, and we identified five of the most, what we call, ‘solution-resistant’ locations; that if we don’t police them something will happen there, historically,” he started.

“Those five locations probably were the largest percentage of the shootings ever year, but this past year they were not because we are there around the clock. It’s made a huge difference.”

Regarding recent media reports about how the JCPD may be resistant to providing use of force information related to making arrests, Kelly was asked if tension between the police and the community has changed.

“Our communication with the community has never been better. Yes, there are still issues that we continue to deal with on a daily basis, but I would say that every week there are folks in my office that have never had access to the Chief of Police on a regular basis,” he responded.

“That’s important to me that we hear from regular folks how we’re doing, and believe it or not, we make changes based on legitimate concerns that folks in the neighborhood have.”

Another public safety initiative that the city will be expanding to aid in its overall crime reduction is the installation of an additional 40 CCTV cameras in locations identified as high-crime areas.

According to Shea, the new technology underpinning the new CCTV systems will now enable Kelly’s supervisors and detectives to look at the cameras footage from their smartphones as an event is happening in real time.

With this new technology, officers are informed of incidents in just under five minutes, as opposed to an older system that centralized all the footage and officers couldn’t access it.

“Two weeks ago police officers tried to stop a car that they believed was stolen, turned out they were right, but the car sped off. Instead of engaging in a dangerous chase that would put pedestrians at risk, they announced the car’s description over the radio [and] another police officer found it abandoned,” he began.

“They then turned to the footage on the CCTVs and they were able to track the three people in the car, where they dumped the gun, where they dumped their outer jackets and where they were located in a park and were arrested.”

When asked what public safety initiatives the department will be pursuing in 2019, Kelly said his goal is improve traffic flow so that congestion, such as double parking in Journal Square, Bergen Avenue and McGinley Square, doesn’t impede with law enforcement.

Additionally, he plans on seeking law enforcement accreditation either on a state or federal level, such as from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police or the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, so that the JCPD is able to demonstrate that it can meet the state or national body of standards developed by law enforcement professionals.

“No department of our size in the state is currently accredited,” Kelly indicated.