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.
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.
"I know last year we probably did about 250, 300 guns, from this unit," Sgt. Anthony Venancio , a member of the street crime unit, told ABC News.
The guns were mostly recovered from traffic stops, and by the end of 2006, police were able to slow the homicide surge to an 8 percent increase, but that was still the most in 16 years. This year the homicide rate is holding steady, but city officials say it's still too high.
Finding Hope Nearby
But is there reason for hope in Newark?
The answer might be found in neighboring East Orange, a smaller New Jersey community in the same county as Newark that shares many of that city's challenges.
Yet in East Orange, there has been a 55 percent decline in violent crime since 2003, including 63 percent fewer murders.
East Orange Police Director Jose Cordero summed up his city's approach. "Using a whole host of new technologies, we are able to adjust almost to the minute to potential criminal trends and patterns that are developing throughout our city," he said, "thereby minimizing our impact and enhancing our ability to make apprehensions and ultimately reduce crime."
New tactics include the use of more sophisticated crime-tracking computers, which alert police to crime hot spots. Surveillance cameras have also been deployed throughout the city, which allow police to expand their reach. Officers in cruisers even have access to the video.
"I can use this monitor and take control of the camera and see what's going on around the corner," one officer demonstrated.
And , supersensitive sound sensors were installed around the city to allow police to pinpoint and quickly respond to shootings.
"They have cameras everywhere. It's like night and day. … Things are so much better," said one resident whose street was once overrun by drug dealers and is quiet now.
Newark is planning for a similar overhaul to its crime-fighting system, and hopes to receive the same results.
"This is the United States of America," said Booker. "We as Newarkers have an obligation to show our way out of the darkness. We all have to step up."