The number of killings in Paterson jumped by 46-percent in 2019, according to individual incident information law enforcement agencies released throughout the year.
There were 19 homicides in 2019, up from 13 in 2018. At the close of last year, police had said there were 12 homicides, but that number increased by 1 in state records. 16 of the murders resulted from gun violence, according to individual incident reports.
The number of non-fatal shootings increased by 21-percent. There were 75 non-fatal shootings in 2019, up from 62 in 2018.
What led to the increase?
“We were in the 20s,” said mayor Andre Sayegh, citing the number from 2017, on Friday. There were 19 homicides each in 2015 and 2016 and 21 in 2017, according to New Jersey crime records. “Last year was a little bit of an anomaly.”
Sayegh would not attribute the increase to morale in the police force over the ouster of their leader or 22 police retirements in the summer.
Councilman Michael Jackson, chairman of the public safety committee, disagreed with the mayor.
“What he’s done over the last year to discredit and get rid of the current chief I think is embarrassing. It definitely plays a big part in what we’re dealing with,” said Jackson.
Sayegh administration officials were embroiled in salary and contract dispute with police chief Troy Oswald which led to a lawsuit.
Oswald was ultimately forced to retire through a settlement agreement. He remains as chief until the state approves his retirement, according to the settlement agreement.
Jackson also said the city needs to invest more in recreation to keep young people off the streets. He pointed to one incident last year, where a 13-year-old boy allegedly shot and killed another 13-year-old boy. Authorities said the two boys were playing with a handgun that accidently discharged.
15 of the 19 homicides occurred in the second half of 2019, according to data.
Sayegh said his administration put 14 police officers on the streets in December. However, that’s still not enough. Even after the new hires, the total number of officers stand at 375, same as it was after the big layoff in 2011.
What’s being done to bring the numbers down?
The mayor said another class is being recruited.
“We’re taking a multi-pronged approach,” said Sayegh. “I don’t want anyone to come away thinking that we’re going to police all of our problems away.”
Sayegh outlined three initiatives his administration is pushing for in 2020 to reduce shootings and killings.
First is what he called a hospital-based intervention approach. The city has applied for grant funding with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, he said. It involves having a trained counselor at the hospital to speak to shooting victims to collect information about their housing, employment, and education situations to potentially provide resources and aid.
Second is a partnership with Everytown for Gun Safety. He said the nonprofit wants to do a pilot initiative to train the Street Keepers, local version of violence interrupters, to reduce gun violence.
Third is a partnership with the Brady Campaign, said Sayegh.
Homicides and non-fatal shootings present an incomplete picture of crime in Paterson. Public safety director Jerry Speziale said the police are compiling data for other crime categories like assaults, robberies, and rapes.