Yesterday in his “year end public safety recap,” Mayor Steven Fulop trumpeted a big drop in homicides and a “downward trend” in some other categories of crime. Ward F Councilman Frank Gilmore, whose ward experienced a disproportionate amount of crime, was not nearly as sanguine.
Fulop said homicides had decreased 50 percent between 2014 and 2022 — from 24 to 12 — and that shootings had declined 30 percent — from 77 to 54.
As part of his presentation, the mayor showed off a chart titled “Violent Crimes.” Only two categories were included: Homicides and “Shootings.” Rape, robbery, and assault were left off even though classified as violent crimes by the F.B.I.
“Shootings” are not part of the data set compiled by the F.B.I. in its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and the mayor did not define the term.
Robberies and Aggravated Assaults were placed on a second chart with non-violent crimes.
The mayor attributed much of what he termed improved safety to two strategies the city has employed during this period: hiring more police officers and installing more closed-circuit TV cameras.
Since 2014, which was Fulop’s first full year in office, the JCPD has grown from 779 to 924—with minority representation now “a majority” of the force, he said. The department’s annual budget rose, from $104 million to $108 million. The city Fire Department (including Office of Emergency Management) also expanded, from 550 to 683, with a $13 million increase to $78 million, he added.
Surrounded by police and fire brass, Fulop made these points at a “2022 Year in Review: Jersey City Public Safety” presentation at City Hall.
While New York City and other big municipalities publish weekly “CompStat” crime incident reports on their websites, Jersey City discontinued the practice in 2018. Yesterday, when asked whether he planned to provide that information, Fulop said the city has expanded its reporting on violent crimes on its website but wouldn’t be issuing weekly reports, preferring to examine “transparent data-driven” trends in local criminal activities.
James Shea, city public safety director, credited the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office with helping the JCPD get murder suspects off the streets by closing 10 of this year’s 12 homicide cases. He also lauded “our federal (law enforcement) partners” for cooperating with the JCPD. Shea praised the JCPD’s Cease Fire Unit for its rapid response to “shots fired” incidents.
A dramatic upswing in the installation of CCTV units, from 50 in 2014 to the current 986 has been a tremendous boon in aiding the department’s detectives and street crimes unit while collecting evidence against criminal suspects in a more efficient manner, Fulop and Shea said.
Witnesses of crimes, particularly those occurring in close-knit neighborhoods, have historically been “reluctant to cooperate, understandably,” Shea said. But in recent years, he said, the city has been able to “bring (the CCTV film) to a judge and jury” to get a conviction.
Another improvement, Fulop said, is that this year Jersey City logged zero traffic deaths—a goal the city set with its “Vision Zero” program launched in 2019. Barkha Patel, the city’s director of infrastructure, said the installation of approximately 600 speed humps, close to 200 right-turn-on-red restrictions, 130 pedestrian priority traffic signals, 90 intersections with new curb extensions and 19 protected bike lanes all contributed to safer streets.
Fulop conceded there have been some hiccups in the city’s crime-fighting efforts, as evidenced by the removal of fewer guns from the streets, as those numbers dropped from 327 to 206 between 2017 and 2022, although Shea said he remains “cautiously optimistic” that the department can make corrections.
The administration is hoping that a partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Gifford Foundation to combat “gang and gun violence” in “hot spots” in the South and West Police Districts with the help of a $227,595 grant for police overtime costs.
A Gifford Foundation statement supporting the grant notes that during 2021, there were a total of 24 homicides in the South and West (Districts) whose victims ranged in age from 15 to 49, representing a 50 percent increase over 2020 despite Covid. Homicides and other violent crimes logged in those sectors were concentrated south of Duncan Avenue in the West District to Gates Avenue in the South District, according to the foundation.
Fulop and Shea also acknowledged an upswing in aggravated assaults between 2014 and 2022 : from 439 to 783. They attributed some of this rise to a change in reporting methodology with domestic violence having been previously excluded from the listing of aggravated assaults. In any case, the JCPD plans to team with the county prosecutor to give domestic violence more attention with a specialized unit, starting next year, they said.
Lesser crimes such as larceny/theft (up from 2,438 to 3,186) and motor vehicle theft (up from 412 to 738) are also edging up, and Shea said there’s “no question that (bail reform) has had consequences as it allows lower-level criminals to become more emboldened because of less criminal repercussions. We have found that it’s the same people doing the same crimes over again.”
Bail reform “adds up to destroying the quality of life for the people of Jersey City,” Shea said.
Fulop agreed that “the current form of bail reform doesn’t work in Jersey City.”
City Council members Mira Prinz-Arey (Ward B) and Denise Ridley (Ward A) said they could see improvements in the city’s crime-fighting tactics while Frank Gilmore (Ward F) had some reservations.
“They didn’t really dive into the numbers,” Gilmore said. “I’d like to see more specific information related to individual wards to justify why so much money is allocated to public safety…. If you’re looking at 12 homicides, what if they occurred in one or two wards? Okay, you may be down 50 percent overall (in the past nine years), but how does that look to the specific wards involved?”
Gilmore said he was “upset they brought up the issue of bail reform, disagreeing that the practice leads to more crime. He said unless the city begins having “hard (Increase in certain crimes) is not because of that and unless we have hard conversations, we’re constantly chasing the horse’s tail. We need ward-specific data. Then we’ll see what resources we need to push into those areas.”
Gilmore said that while the administration deserves kudos for implementing CCTVs and closing cases on homicides, he believes another approach is needed to deal with crime in Ward F. “They’re looking at trends, they’re not looking at things on the ground, in your face stuff, things happening every day.” Bottom line, he said, is “we have to provide better service for the money we’re asking people to kick in.”
The latest numbers, if accurate, would represent somewhat of a turnaround for the mayor’s crime fighting strategy. From 2014, Mayor Fulop’s first full year in office, to 2019, crime went up by 15.1 percent overall. Violent crime, which includes homicide, aggravated assault, rape, and robbery, increased by almost one percent. Property crime, which includes larceny, auto theft, burglary, and arson—and which represents approximately three quarters of all crime in Jersey City—was up by 19.7 percent.