Murder, Robbery Rates Up in Big Cities

At 11 o'clock on a hot spring night, police in Newark, N.J., found themselves racing to reports of a possible shooting. A police helicopter hovered overhead as the pilot tried to quickly and aggressively respond and track any suspects from the air.

Drug-related crime poses an increased threat to peace in the city.

Just minutes later, police were involved in a high-speed chase, trying to capture a suspect who'd bolted in a stolen car. That suspect had just destroyed a parked car before crashing a few blocks away.

It was shaping up to be a typical night for the Newark Police Department, which is fighting the type of rising crime rate now affecting major cities across the country. While violent crime in the United States might be up a mere 1.3 percent, according to the FBI's preliminary report on 2006 crime statistics, peeling back the layers reveals some disturbing trends.

WHAT TO KNOW

The murder rate rose only 0.3 percent nationwide, but the story changes in major cities. For those with 1 million or more residents, the murder rate is up 6.7 percent and robbery is also up 6 percent since 2005.

For police in Newark, the problem is more than just rising numbers. They are engaged in a war against the violence that threatens to define Newark, a New York-area city, which has a population of about 280,000.

New Tech, New Tactics

At one point last spring, homicide in Newark was up a staggering 18 percent, with shootings climbing a stunning 30 percent.

"The day I was sworn in, two people were murdered," said Mayor Cory Booker.

Since he took office in July 2006, Booker has tried to make good on his campaign platform of stopping the carnage.

"You have people living in fear, people worried about their children. We have a crisis in our country," he said.

The violence in Newark is largely fueled by poverty and heavily armed drug gangs prone to violence.

"The central theme throughout all the violence in Newark is narcotics," said Garry McCarthy, the city's police director. "Sometimes turf battles, sometimes battles over money, sometimes just narcotics dealers who just happen to be carrying guns who get into a dispute over a girlfriend and as such will whip out a gun and start shooting."

And to make matters worse, as crime rose, the Police Department was still using antiquated technology. When Booker took office, officers still logged crime reports by typewriter, rather than computer.

"It was reactive policing rather than proactive policing," said McCarthy. "When I came here, I found people who were willing to work, and … sharp cops and little else. Good bosses but little else."

The new mayor and police director have deployed more officers to high-crime areas and rearranged officers' schedules to better meet the city's needs.

"We found through some analysis that our cops weren't working the right hours -- 60 percent of this agency was working 8 a.m. through 4 p.m., Monday through Friday," said McCarthy. "You don't have to be a criminologist to realize that most of the violent crime happens in the evening, generally toward the weekends."

Newark has also created fugitive-apprehension teams and special anti-drug and street crime units to recover weapons.

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