NEWARK, N.J. – Mayor Ras J. Baraka recently hosted elected officials, law enforcement leaders and anti-violence community liaisons from cities across the country for two days of seminars on reinventing, reinvesting, and reimagining public safety.
The facilitated discussion, held on February 27 and 28, was organized by the City and the National League of Cities (NLC) Mayoral Network on Community Safety and Violence Prevention.
“We have spent several years creating an ecosystem that includes all factions of our community and the police,” said Baraka. “Now that we have our ecosystem set up, we have to be more deliberate and intentional about outcomes. Peaceful, safe communities rise up from collective awareness and cooperation among all entities – that each have input in the discussion about their experience, insights and needs. Newark’s strategy is to shift the culture away from end-game enforcement and focus on crime and violence as a public health issue that requires attention to root causes, not symptoms.”
In the past five years, Newark has seen double-digit percentage reductions in violent crime, built on the strength of data collection, police and citizen communication and cooperation, the introduction of social workers into the Public Safety structure, community-based organizations and “credible messengers,” individuals with strong community ties who help avert violence. Last year alone, murders were down 17 percent to 60-year lows, and non-fatal shootings and non-fatal shooting victims both fell by 36 percent.
The major part of the “ecosystem” was formalized when Mayor Baraka created a new Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery (OVPTR) in 2020 and founded the Brick City Peace Collective (BCPC) two years earlier, made up of community-based violence intervention organizations – a strategy dedicated to coordination, collaboration, partnership and accountability for 18-20 community-based organizations, institutions and individuals.
On Monday and Tuesday, Mayor @rasjbaraka hosted elected officials, law enforcement leaders, and anti-violence community liaisons from cities across the country for two days of seminars on reinventing, reinvesting and reimagining public safety. pic.twitter.com/zmtHoeVMez
— City of Newark (@CityofNewarkNJ) March 3, 2023
“We are shifting the culture to approach violence from a public health perspective and not allowing law enforcement to be the only strategy,” said OVPTR Director Lakeesha Eure. “There is a community-based public safety entity that is now professionalizing the work and there has to be equity in terms of how resources are distributed. Our collective impact strategy is bringing all of the systems together as an ecosystem to provide resources to the community and to show that law enforcement is not responsible for public safety alone. The public has to have input.”
During his introductory remarks, NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony said the purpose of the convening was to find “tangible solutions” to crime problems in the nation’s cities.
“NLC is committed to supporting all cities, towns and villages as they work to find and advance better community safety and violence prevention efforts,” said Anthony. “We often say that the City of Newark is a model when it comes to reimagining public safety. We are thrilled that Mayor Baraka partnered with us to share the innovative strategies Newark has put in place, so that local leaders all across America can learn from them and apply similar approaches that make sense in the context of their own communities.”
To open the discussion, Mayor Baraka led a panel with Newark Public Safety Director Fritz G. Fragé; OVPTR Director Eure; Kyleesha Wingfield-Hill, Executive Director of the BCPC; and Solomon Middleton Williams of the Newark City Street Team (NCST), to discuss Newark’s ecosystem of community groups and their partnerships with law enforcement.
On March 15, Mayor Baraka will unveil OVPTR’s strategic plan in the City Hall Press Room at 11 a.m.
Some of what is contained in the OVPTR Strategic Plan was presented to NLC President and Tacoma, Washington, Mayor Victoria Woodards, mayors and their staffs to provide actionable steps for municipal leaders.
These strategies include using data for violence prevention, law enforcement accountability, social worker response to crime scenes and the role of credible community messengers.
“We think Newark can be a model for cities that want to develop street teams and credible messengers to reduce violence,” said Williams of NCST.