The number of killings in the city increased from 20 to 23, a 15-percent spike, in 2017, according to preliminary police Uniform Crime Report data released on Tuesday afternoon. This represents the third worst year since 1989. Only two other years were as deadly or worse – 1993 with 23 homicides and 2014 with 25 killings.
Rape, robbery, and aggravated assaults saw decreases. Rape dropped to 45 in 2017 from 57; robberies declined to 486 from 551 the previous year. Rape and robbery incidents dropped by 21 and 12 percents.
Aggravated assaults dropped to 472 from 499, a five-percent drop, according to police data. Property crimes also decreased. For instance, arson declined to 10 in 2017 from 13. Auto theft dropped to 631 from 671, a six-percent decrease. However, burglary increased by four-percent, from 957 to 993 in 2017.
Police director Jerry Speziale said overall crime is at a 25-year low. He said two of the counted homicides were police-involved shootings. He also said shootings were down in 2017. Last year, former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres celebrated the crime numbers because they had dipped to a level unseen in almost 30 years.
“I’m never going to be happy with the numbers unless they are zero,” said Speziale on Tuesday afternoon. “Zero violent crimes. Zero homicides. Zero burglaries.” The data released on Tuesday were preliminary statistics that did not have larceny numbers.
Speziale said complete data will be released next week. The preliminary data included an important discrepancy. In early 2016, police had said there were 19 homicides; however, in early 2017, that number has been revised to 20. Speziale said a death in 2016 was later determined to be a homicide which changed the data.
“I don’t think there’s any sense in the community that things are getting better,” said councilman Michael Jackson, chairman of the public safety committee. He said police response is delayed by as much as 40 minutes. He said crime, particularly drug dealing, has spread to some of the better areas of the city.
Jackson recognized the police department is understaffed. Speziale said there are 386 police officers on the force. He wants to boost that number above 400. Police have been losing officers as fast as new ones are being hired due to retirements.
Torres managed to keep his campaign promise of hiring 25 police officers every year. The city is faced with another budget shortfall this year that may make hiring additional officers difficult.
Jackson said the city needs to reactivate its defunct auxiliary police force that was disbanded some years ago. He also wants to create a unit of class-two police officers to speed up response time.
“We have capable police officers. We just need to get them more resources,” said Jackson.
Council president Ruby Cotton said the flow of illegal guns into Paterson is contributing to the crime problem.
“I think we’re trying our best to handle the guns, but it’s hard,” she said. She said a national gun control measure is needed to halt the flow of illegal guns into Paterson from other states. “People should be in an uproar for gun control,” she said.
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