By Aaron Smith, The New York Sun,
NEWARK, N.J. -- When Eliza De Almeida heard gunshots on her Newark block the morning after Thanksgiving, she didn't bother to call police because she assumed it had been fireworks. The 17-year-old thought real gunfire was rapid-fire, like the spate of gunshots she heard last year from the nearby Seth Boyden housing project. The four or five shots she heard last Friday were more distinct.
"It wasn't in quick succession," said Ms. DeAlmeida, who was in her bedroom when she heard the shots sometime after 1 a.m. "There was like one gunshot, then there was a small pause, then there was another one, and then a small pause. With all the shots, there was a pause between them."
If Ms. De Almeida had stepped out the front door of her new duplex at Ludlow Street and looked down the block toward the St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, she might have witnessed the grisly aftermath of a quadruple homicide.
Homicides in Newark have declined since 1978, when the city was used as a crime-prevention laboratory in a famous study known as the Newark Foot Patrol Experiment. The study, conducted by a Police Foundation sociologist, George Kelling, determined that deploying foot-patrol officers succeeded in reducing the number of minor offenses and the overall fear of crime as well. Mr. Kelling used the results of that study as the basis for "Broken Windows," a 1982 article in the Atlantic Monthly that he co-authored with the political scientist James Q. Wilson. The term "broken windows" became a catchphrase in New York under Mayor Giuliani and in other cities that implemented the article's approach: strongly enforcing laws against minor infractions to discourage more serious crimes by sending a signal that the community is under control.
In recent years at Newark, however, killings have begun to creep back up, totaling 83 last year and reaching 77 this year. That means the number of murders in 2004 in this city, whose name is synonymous in policing circles with shoe-leather crime prevention, is nearly the same as the 79 killings reported in Manhattan, which has more than five times as many residents.
"People now are scared," Carmen Acevedo, 38, who lives at nearby Dayton Street, said. "We got family. We got kids. We need more protection."
The murder rate remains a stubborn problem, Mr. Kelling said. "We haven't made some of the progress we hoped for," he said, "and that is in the area of homicide."
Ludlow Street, site of the quadruple homicide, is a tidier area than Seth Boyden. Even so, Eliza DeAlmeida's mother, Marcia Pereira, 48, said her daughter works at a movie theater, which requires the 17-year-old to come home late at night, and she wants the teenager to find a daytime job instead. Ms. Pereira said car burglars had preyed upon her and her neighbors several times, and that the nearby projects were rife with drug sales and prostitution.
Once lauded for its efforts at neighborhood policing, the Newark Police Department has struggled of late with corruption. In October, two Newark police officers were indicted on charges of extortion involving drug dealers, stealing money, and planting drugs on innocent victims. In September, a Newark police officer was indicted on charges of selling drugs, and another officer pleaded guilty to shaking down dealers. At the time, the city's police director, Anthony Ambrose, criticized the officers for their "significant and corrosive" impact on the department's reputation.
Newark is rebounding from its problems with corruption because the department has found strong leadership under newly appointed Mr. Ambrose, Mr. Kelling said. The department is also working closely with faculty members at Rutgers University, as well as prosecutors, parole officers, and mental health workers, to tackle crime. Newark experienced a sharp decline in crime when the statistics system Compstat was introduced in 1997.
Newark's quadruple homicide on November 26, in which the bodies of three men and a woman were found at 7:38 a.m. by a church caretaker several hours after neighbors said they heard shots, was most likely a planned slaughter that would have been difficult to prevent, Mr. Kelling said. The killers "picked their time, picked their location, and there was very little police were able to do about it," he said.
According to a police detective, Todd McClendon, three of the victims, Carmen Estronza, 34, Camilo Reyes, 32, and Jarmeil Ward, 24, visited La Villa Utuadena on Thanksgiving night, a bar that they had robbed October 27. The fourth victim, Kyhron Ward, 26, is the brother of the one of the robbers. There have been no arrests in their killings.
The Newark Police Department, with approximately 1,400 officers, lacks the manpower capabilities of the New York Police Department with its 35,500 officers. "If you had an area that had a spike in crime, you could throw 1,000 cops at it," Mr. Kelling said, referring to the NYPD under Commissioner Bratton. "You could saturate an area."
Despite the quadruple homicide, Newark's murder tally so far this year is about half of what it was in 1973 and 1980, when killings peaked at 163 each year.
"We forget where we were and where we're at," Mr. Ambrose, the police director, said. "We're talking about a 58% reduction in crime since 1995."
About 150 police officers were recently pulled from desk jobs to patrol the streets, Mr. Ambrose said, and mounted police and motorcycle fleets that were once limited to patrolling downtown are now also used in outlying neighborhoods to maintain a visible police presence. If people feel safe, they are safe, Mr. Ambrose said, echoing the findings of the Newark Foot Patrol Experiment.
Crime in the South Ward, home to the Seth Boyden project and site of the quadruple homicide, is down 13% this year, Mr. Ambrose said. But it doesn't feel that way to some of the residents.
"See that, right there?" said Norma Rodriguez, 54, a 35-year Seth Boyden resident. Ms. Rodriguez, who is a Head Start parent coordinator, pointed to a telephone pole adorned with T-shirts memorializing four homicide victims from the past year. "There's a lot of drugs. Anybody could be a target. I see young kids, kids that I saw growing up, and they're all dead."
At Seth Boyden, broken windows aren't always caused by petty vandalism. Danny Delvalle, 23, said the bedroom window of his 4-year-old son was shot out a year ago. The family wasn't home at the time. "I live here, but I don't come out in the street because of the crime," Mr. Delvalle said.
The police director said killings have been largely confined to those who engage in dangerous lifestyles.
"With homicides, it's not the elderly lady on her way to the meat market who is going to get robbed and killed," Mr. Ambrose said. "It's the person who tends to lead a violent life, to be involved in gangs, to be involved in drugs. That's who is getting killed."
Eli Silverman, professor emeritus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center of City University of New York, said New York has succeeded in cutting crime through aggressive Compstat tactics, by going over statistics in regularly held meetings and holding commanders accountable in areas where crime was not in decline.
Mr. Silverman said police departments should be "cultivated" before Compstat systems are introduced, to get rid of the traditional and outmoded philosophy that "there's not much you should do about the reduction of crime."
Mr. Silverman and Mr. Ambrose both said "relentless follow-up" was the key to making Compstat's positive impact endure.
In comparison to the Seth Boyden housing projects just a few blocks away, the scene of the quadruple homicide at Ludlow Street, in the southern part of the city, doesn't look particularly forbidding. The street and the lot where the bodies were found are well lit at night. Newly constructed row houses line the street directly across from the lot. The older homes have bars on the windows, but the newer ones do not, suggesting an attempt at gentrification.
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At the site the other day, "Stop the Violence" signs were posted on the wrought-iron gate of St. Thomas Aquinas.