Safer Newark, N.J., Initiative Sets Low Tolerance for Repeat Offenders and Firearm Use
From 2000 to 2002, researchers at Rutgers University's School of Criminal Justice pulled together a task force originally called the Newark Violence Prevention Project and now known as the Greater Newark Safer Cities Initiative to examine the nature of Newark's violent crime problem and take steps to address it.
The Greater Newark Safer Cities Initiative accomplished the following during the grant period:
- It developed a person-centered approach to treating high-risk adult probationers and parolees. It promises comprehensive social services and case management to help them break their patterns of violence, along with swift criminal justice consequences for subsequent violations.
- Law enforcement and criminal justice agencies participating in the initiative adopted a Gun Strategy Pilot Program that prioritizes and expedites criminal cases in which firearms were used.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project through a grant of $199,210.
In 1997, Newark, N.J., had a violent crime rate of 2,735 per 100,000 residents, more than twice that of either New York City or Philadelphia, according to federal crime statistics. About 65 percent of all violent crimes in New Jersey were committed in Newark. As in other cities, offenders between 15 and 24 years old accounted for a substantial proportion of the violent crimes committed in Newark, including more than half of all homicides. Newark also consistently ranked among the top five cities nationally in the rate of drug-related hospital emergency department admissions.
Some cities have formed collaboratives that have worked to reduce violent crime, according to researchers at Rutgers University. In Boston, a collaboration between researchers; police; prosecutors; probation and parole officials; social service agencies; the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and community and religious groups has been credited with cutting the homicide rate by more than half. A similar collaborative problem-solving approach in Minneapolis also had success.
In 1998, researchers at Rutgers University's School of Criminal Justice began to pull together a task force, originally called the Newark Violence Prevention Project, to examine the nature of Newark's violent crime problem and take steps to address it.
The project received its initial funding from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, with additional funding from the state of New Jersey, Lucent Technologies Foundation, the Prudential Foundation and MCJ Foundation. The collaborative effort included federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, social service agencies, community groups, and researchers. Early efforts included the forging of working partnerships among the various participating agencies, research on the nature of violent crime in Newark and development of strategies to reduce crime.
George Kelling, the project's director, is a professor at the School of Criminal Justice. He is the co-author, with James Q. Wilson, of a widely cited 1982 article in The Atlantic Monthly, "Broken Windows," which argued that addressing low-level urban disorder and decay can reduce more serious crime. This theory came into practice in New York City with its crackdown on petty crimes, which, according to Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, led to major crime reduction.
RWJF's broad focus on reducing the harm of substance abuse has included efforts to address the related problem of youth violence. Key projects include:
- Three grants to the Community Violence Prevention Project at the Harvard School of Public Health, which assists local leaders in planning, implementing and evaluating violence-prevention projects in their communities. See Grant Results on ID# 021779 and on ID#s 027706, 028789.
- Production and distribution of a video, The Boston Strategy: Stories of Change, about the Boston Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence, a comprehensive public-private sector collaboration to reduce youth violence and homicide. See Grant Results on ID# 034184 and on ID# 034914.
- A subsequent grant to the Boston Police Department funded the development of a model truancy intervention program for middle and high school students in Boston and documentation of the program's development. See Grant Results on ID# 036449.
- A grant to Harvard Law School to conduct five case studies of four cities (Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco) that have made significant efforts to reduce youth violence or reform the juvenile justice system. See Grant Results on ID# 028959.
- The Local Initiatives Funding Partner Program also supports an array of projects addressing youth violence. See a list of projects online under Violence Prevention & Treatment.
Though this grant did not draw from the funds that RWJF has allocated to projects conducted specifically within New Jersey (where RWJF is located), the proximity of the project along with the reputation of the project director and the commitment of the other funders sparked the interest of RWJF staff.
In mid-2000, RWJF provided a grant to the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice to support the work of the Greater Newark Safer Cities Initiative (as the Newark Violence Prevention Project is now known). In September 2001, the initiative became part of the newly created Police Institute at Rutgers-Newark.
An initial working group of criminal justice agencies expanded to include the public defender's office, social service and treatment providers, the faith community, local businesses and other community representatives. The group met weekly to identify problems, overcome jurisdictional barriers and work toward collaborative solutions. The Greater Newark Safer Cities Initiative also hired full-time community organizers to ensure the participation of community and faith organizations.
Staff of the initiative conducted research and analysis of violent crime in and around Newark. One finding of this research was that violent crime was disproportionately caused by repeat offenders. Staff of the initiative decided to focus its initial efforts at this slightly older group, rather than the more youthful offenders it originally planned to target.
The project accomplished the following during the grant period:
- For its first intervention strategy, the initiative developed a person-centered approach to treating adult probationers and parolees who, because of their criminal history, faced a high risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violent behavior in the near future. The approach includes several elements:
- Notification sessions, at which the probationers and parolees are given two promises: (1) swift and sure criminal justice consequences if they engage in future violence; and (2) immediate access to a wide range of programs from social service and treatment providers, counseling from clergy, education and job training.
- Assessment and service, including intake assessments conducted by social service and treatment providers, along with referrals for appropriate services.
- Case processing at semimonthly meetings where initiative members (including parole and probation officers, prosecutors, public defenders, social services providers and clergy) discuss the individual progress of participants to ensure that they do not "fall between the cracks."
- Accountability sessions, required monthly meetings held at community and faith centers in local neighborhoods, at which individuals have their progress assessed in front of peers and parole and probation officers. The meetings, which are based on the drug court model, are intended to ensure that at-risk individuals are complying with the new "rules of the game" and that delivery of services actually takes place as promised in the notification sessions.
As of April 2003, 155 probationers and parolees had taken part in this process. Of them, 26 had received substance abuse treatment, more than a quarter received a job or job training, and others were provided educational, medical or mental health services.
- Law enforcement and criminal justice agencies participating in the Greater Newark Safer Cities Initiative adopted a Gun Strategy Pilot Program aimed at offenders who carry guns and commit crimes with firearms. Its primary strategy is to make the case processing system for these individuals more effective, chiefly by prioritizing and expediting criminal cases in which firearms were used.
The efforts of the initiative have received substantial coverage in the local media. A section of the Police Institute Web site (no longer in existence) was devoted to the initiative and its activities. Kelling is working on a book about the project, and has made more than 30 presentations.
- In projects involving the collaboration of multiple government agencies, the inclusion of a powerful neutral player can help avert turf battles. In this project, the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University played that role. (Project Director)
- Partnering with a local New Jersey funder, in close proximity, provides RWJF staff with an opportunity to see projects function in their entirety and learn about operational issues as they impact the project. (RWJF Program Officer)
AFTER THE GRANT
The state of New Jersey provided $1 million to the initiative in its 2003 budget. Future activities include extending the accountability program for parolees and probationers to include violent offenders as they are released from prison, and interventions aimed at youthful first-time offenders. Project staff is providing consultation to a similar effort in Camden, N.J., and Los Angeles has asked them to test the feasibility of a replication there.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Newark Violence Prevention Project
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Criminal Justice (Roseland, NJ)
Dates: June 2000 to December 2002
George L. Kelling
Report prepared by: Robert Crum
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Judith S. Stavisky