Sarah Gonzalez, Reporter, WNYC/NJPR
Sarah Gonzalez is the northern New Jersey enterprise reporter for WNYC and NJPR.
Newark, N.J. closed out the year 2013 with 111 murders – the highest in 23 years.
After three children were shot on Christmas night, those vying to become the city's next mayor are detailing their plans to lower crime.
A 15-year-old boy has been charged with murder and attempted-murder for the Christmas night shooting that left Kasson Mormon, 15, and Zainee Hailey, 13, dead.
Hailey was killed by a stray bullet while taking out the trash.
Abdul Frazier, 14, is in critical condition after being shot in the neck.
Ras Baraka, a South Ward Council Member and mayoral candidate, says his plan to curb violence includes involving gang leaders in negotiating ceasefires and getting their members to stop the shootings.
“If they commit a crime, put them in jail,” Baraka said. “But we also need to tell them that we want to pull them out of this situation. That they don't have to solve problems with violence and we want to provide you an alternative.”
But other candidates, like North Ward Council Member Anibal Ramos, have denounced the idea of working with the people who are pulling the triggers.
“I refuse to negotiate with gang leaders,” Ramos said.
He sent a letter to Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker asking for federal funding to hire more police officers.
Budget cuts during the recession and reduced state aid from Governor Christie has resulted in police lay-offs in Newark.
There are currently less than a thousand sworn officers – about 700 less than there were in the 90s.
“Homicides, many of them, are tied to gang and drug structures,” Ramos says, “Having a police force that is large and most importantly has the resources to take down some of these organizations is key to creating a safe city.”
But Baraka says those who are committing the crimes need to be a part of the conversation. He says that's something that fell by the wayside toward the end of Cory Booker’s time as mayor.
“The mayor before has done press interview after press interview and saying, ‘We will have no crime in our city,’ and I wish that that would stop crime,” Baraka said.
“I wish that I could go on television and say ‘I will not negotiate with criminals’ and stop them from shooting 13-year-olds who come out to dump the garbage. But that has not been successful, so we have to get creative.”
Mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries has introduced cracking down on illegal gun possession. He is a former assistant attorney general under Governor Jon Corzine who oversaw juvenile justice and prisoner re-entry programs in New Jersey.
He says there are laws on the books against illegal gun possession, but argues that people are offered plea bargains for reduced sentences.
“Anybody have an illegal gun in the city of Newark, they need to go to prison and they need to go to prison for an extended term and there needs to be no plea bargaining.”
Darrin Sharif, the Central Ward Council Member and mayoral candidate, agrees that the city needs to address the root causes of violence, through after school programs, for example.
And he says warns that expanding the police force needs to be gradual since the only source of reliable revenue for the city is taxes.
Sharrif says his focus would be on hiring a top police director.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker, who recently spoke out against the uptick in violence in Newark, says the war on drugs is fueling crime.