Safety First, Prosperity Next

February 6, 2013

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has an ambitious goal: to dramatically lower crime in the city. “Public safety is Mayor Booker’s number one priority,” says Bari Mattes, a senior advisor to the mayor. “Until the city is safe, it’s going to have an impact on people investing and living here. It underlies the city’s success in every way.”

To realize this vision, the Mayor’s office is collaborating with the Community Foundation on a ground-breaking private-public partnership called the Newark Police Foundation.

The Police Foundation was created to finance two areas of desperate need. One is upgraded technology and equipment for the police department. The other is funding for two innovative programs: Crime Stoppers and Gun Stoppers.

The goal of Crime Stoppers and Gun Stoppers is to lower crime by recruiting help from the community. The Newark Police Department, using money from the Foundation, has established anonymous tip lines for people to call to report a crime or illegal weapon. Good tips result in a reward of up to $2,000.

“A lot of crime in Newark is gang-based, so people are scared,” says Mattes. For this reason, the program is designed to protect the caller’s identity.

The telephone line is available to those who speak Portuguese, Spanish and English. When an officer deems a tip viable, callers will receive a four-digit number. They can call the tip line back and use that number to find out if the information they provided led to an arrest or discovery of an illegal firearm. In that case, they receive a second four-digit number. Callers can go to participating Newark banks with both four-digit numbers to collect their reward.

Crime Stoppers and Gun Stoppers were modeled after New York Police Department programs that have proven effective. No additional officers were hired, but those assigned to the unit are trained specifically to engage the community and respect callers’ anonymity.

Since the guarantee of anonymity is essential to the program’s success, it could not run within city government without the private arm of the Newark Police Foundation. The city could not give a reward without obtaining a name and social security number, Mattes explains. But the Foundation can.

“Fighting crime is so critical … but we really couldn’t do it without the Community Foundation because I don’t have a staff,” Mattes says.

Nor does the Mayor — who inherited a structural deficit of $150 million — have the money.

“All of New Jersey will benefit from a revitalized Newark,” says Community Foundation President Hans Dekker. “Newark is in many ways the emotional capital of New Jersey. People throughout the state want to help it succeed and thrive.”

The process has already started. With money from the Foundation, the financially strangled city will explore the best possible investments to catapult Newark’s police department into the 21st century.

“We need to step it up in a big way,” Mattes says. “Some of the police officers are still using manual typewriters.”

Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy has already identified five target areas: mobile data computers in police cars so officers can file reports without returning to headquarters; mobile video camera systems; an upgraded fingerprint ID system; a license plate ID system mounted in patrol cars that automatically scans plates; and satellite cellular phones that get service even in the event of a disaster.

Fueling such innovative projects is exactly what the Community Foundation aims to accomplish. “We view the Community Foundation as a way to incubate and jump start important resources in the community,” Dekker says. “We want to put technology into the hands of the police and make our streets safer.”

As plans become reality day by day, the Newark Police Foundation is helping to create a more inviting, more prosperous Newark for everyone.