NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Amid New York City’s rise in shootings and heated calls to defund the NYPD, a neighboring city is touting one of its safest years in six decades, and it credits a positive police and community relationship.
“I love my city, and I see it changing for the better,” said William Latimore, with the Newark Community Street Team.
It’s a pride that can bring even the toughest guys to tears. After spending 14 years in prison, Latimore has become the change he wanted to see for Newark.
“I’m working on maybe seven different conflicts that’s in the city,” he said.
He’s a leading member of the Newark Community Street Team, which was formed six years ago under Mayor Ras Baraka.
Aqeela Sherrills is the man in charge.
“Many of our staff are credible messengers. They’re former gang members, ex-convicts, drug dealers, folks who changed and transformed their lives,” he said.
Now they work to transform the streets.
Most are lifelong Newark residents with a so-called “hood history,” these men and women have a connection with the high-risk community many cops don’t have.
“Someone who experienced what they experienced is the best people to be able to teach them and guide them and lead them in the right direction,” team member Tequila Thompson said.
“The Newark Street Team has a trust from people that will never trust us. They’ll never trust the police. Or not right now,” Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose told CBS2’s Jessica Layton.
Ambrose says the team is one piece of why crime is down in Newark.
The city says its homicide rate in 2019 was the lowest it’s been since 1961, and since last year, violent crime and arrests are also down, putting 2020 on track to be even better.
“Deescalation training. You know, it’s just not a word that you’re gonna use, you have to make sure that your officers are trained,” Ambrose said.
Overall, the cries to defund the police that we’re hearing in other cities seem quieter and a little calmer in Newark. It may be that some of the public’s demands are already being met.
“Newark is leading the country in that last week, we moved 5% of the police department’s $230 million budget into a new department of violence prevention and community wellness,” Sherrills said.
Willing to point out the positives in policing when a recent protest brought out 12,000 in Newark.
“I think what the police did was listen to the community,” Latimore said.
A community determined not to repeat history, like the riots of 1967.
“We ask not to show up as though you’re looking to bust heads or stomp on heads,” Latimore said. “It set precedence to pull his officers back and let the community deal with it.”
It’s a two-way street putting Newark on a better path.
Newark also has a policy in place where officers must live in the city for their first year on the force, so they can make the city where they’re patrolling their home.