Five cities in New Jersey have seen major police layoffs in the past year and this drop in patrolling officers has already led to fewer arrests as the departments must re-prioritize. Citizens claim they already see the effects, with some low-level criminals being more brazen in their activities.
It stands to reason that the police would begin making fewer arrests for the least serious offenses. If they only have enough officers for a certain number of arrests and contacts everyday, it makes sense to focus on the most serious offenses. But many are worried that decreased enforcement for the less serious offenses will ultimately increase all crime.
According to NJ.com, one Camden resident says that the drug dealers already present in her neighborhood have become more brave, taking over her stoop. She chases them away and they are back within minutes. Another woman in the Waterfront South area says dealers are openly manning their street corners and that “it’s getting worse.”
From January 2009 through November 2010, Newark police officers made arrests or issued summonses for about 5,100 “other infractions” every month. Since the layoffs, that rate has dropped to about 2,600 per month. These infractions include things like curfew and noise violations—those things which can hurt the quality of life.
Paterson has also seen a drop in misdemeanor shoplifting and drug possession charges, with about 700 arrests per month before the layoffs, falling to about 545 per month afterwards. Camden has seen the change among traffic tickets, falling from 3,820 to 1,850 per month.
When a police agency has the money, addressing these so-called quality of life offenses can help reduce overall crime by keeping communities safe and signaling would-be law violators that the police are present and are actively enforcing even the most minor criminal offenses.
Police in these cities have declined to comment on the decreased arrests and citations. But what would they say? They simply don’t have the manpower to address all violations and disregarding the more serious offenses would lead to even an even direr situation.
Criminal justice professor Mike Maxfield with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice says, “In general, the less serious stuff is treated with more discretion. You can’t write off a bank robbery, you can’t ignore a homicide.”
So it seems this is the way things will unfold, at least until the agencies have funds to rehire officers for the enforcement of crimes or until we figure out a way to address the actual causes of crime.
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