WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
The City of Newark is laying off 167 police officers, roughly 12 percent of its force. The move came after a stand-off between the union and Mayor Cory Booker.
Mayor Booker says a multi-million dollar budget gap, cuts in state aid and rising healthcare and pension costs meant he had to get his concessions from the police to avert layoffs. The union counters its plan for cost cutting was unfairly dismissed.
"We were doing everything possible to avoid this from ever happening," Booker told WNYC. "In fact, we starved other city departments to push more resources into the police department to actually start hiring more police officers. And to have this day come -- it is very sobering and disappointing."
Booker insists a major restructuring of the Department will get enough cops out from behind desks and into the community to backstop the force reduction.
Police Director Garry McCarthy says he "has flattened" the Department's hierarchy and integrated different Department bureaus so that patrol strength will remain constant. McCarthy welcomed the prospect that talk show host and Guardian Angels leader Curtis Sliwa planned on visiting Newark at the invitation of concerned residents.
"I know Curtis. You know, if it helps then I'll do it," said McCarthy. "I'll try anything. I'll tell him where to go. Let's put it that way. And you know his methods are his methods and hopefully they help."
Life-long Newark resident Albert Catoe said police layoffs are a bad idea and will hurt the economy. "'Cause Newark is one of the worst cities around like Chicago. Yup it's time to stay in the house now."
Newark resident Andre Berry says all parties should have worked harder to prevent the layoffs. "The more cops you lay off, the more trouble we are going to have," says Berry. "I am going to hate to see what happens. They got to come up with a solution. This whole city is falling apart. Why didn't they split it up so that the cops, firefighters and teachers, the people we need, have job security?"
In 1996, Time Magazine ranked Newark the most dangerous city in the nation. In recent years, the city has made significant progress with a decline in homicides, but saw some backsliding last year when homicides jumped to 77, up from 65 in 2008. In March of this year, Newark had its first homicide-free month since 1966.
When it comes to a shrinking blue line, Newark is not alone with Atlantic City, Camden, Trenton and even suburban communities working through force reductions. In recent testimony before a state legislative panel, a PBA state official said overall there were 11 percent fewer cops statewide this year over last.
A poor economy continues to reduce local tax revenues even as employee health care and pension costs spike. A series of initiatives by Governor Christie to help local governments contain costs is still pending in the Democrat-controlled state legislature.
Similar local and state budget problems are being reported across the nation. With Republicans slated to take charge in the U.S. House and Democrats hold on the Senate weakened, prospects for additional aid from Washington seem remote.