The number of murders in Paterson skyrocketed in 2020, reaching a 31-year high, according to New Jersey State Police and municipal government data.
Paterson had 27 murders, up from 19 the previous year, representing a 42-percent increase. Records show this is the highest homicide figure logged by Paterson since 1989.
Non-fatal shootings have also skyrocketed in 2020. 143 people were wounded in 98 non-fatal shootings in 2020, up 37 percent from the 104 people wounded in 75 shootings in 2019, according to police.
Why are the numbers up?
“You are seeing these increases throughout the nation,” said public safety director Jerry Speziale.
“The pandemic is playing a role,” said mayor Andre Sayegh. He read off a list of mid-size cities that saw a sharp increase in crime in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. “This pandemic has really driven the demand for drugs. It has also caused a disruption in the drug market where you have turf battles amongst people for certain corners.”
Sayegh said increased distrust of police after the killing of George Floyd has led to witnesses refusing to cooperate in investigations.
The police force is also badly understaffed, said Mason Maher, president of the police union that represents ranking officers.
“Our numbers are down,” said Maher. Indeed, Paterson, despite a decade of trying to increase the ranks of officers, has 376 police officers. Paterson has seen waves of retirements. In 2010, Paterson had almost 500 police officers. After a big layoff that year the number of officers dropped to 375. Some police officers were out because of Covid-19. Other officers stepped up to cover their shifts, said Maher.
Morale is low in the force, said Maher. Police chief Ibrahim “Mike” Baycora and the police unions have been at war with each other. Baycora has accused both police union presidents of wrongdoing. Both unions in turned filed a lawsuit against Baycora in federal court.
“We have to get our morale back up,” said Maher. He said the ways to do that would be to increase the number of officers and allow contract negotiations without interference from the chief.
Maher said leadership at the chief’s office has been deficient. Police officers and members of the City Council have also raised questions about the chief’s leadership over the past year.
“I don’t think it’s leadership,” said Sayegh, who appointed Baycora last January. He pointed out the number of shootings were low in the first half of 2020, but surged in the second half. “Something happened in May. And it was something that happened throughout the country.”
What’s being done?
Speziale said he intends to bolster the ranks of police by adding more officers. Officials hope to get the number of officers over 415 by June. He said there’s an “extra protection” initiative to curb gun violence. He would not provide details about the initiative.
Speziale said there’s also quality of life and street crime units.
“We’re looking at the evidence and the drivers from the data, and then we will bolster in those areas to continue to focus on the violent crime,” said Speziale.
Police are also focused on confiscating illegal guns off the streets. Sayegh said approximately 200 guns were seized in 2020.
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