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Newark’s rates for shootings and murders are off the charts, according to Mayor Cory Booker.
But those stats are off the charts in a good way, at least from 2006 to 2009, the mayor claimed during a March 22 interview on NJToday.
"My first four years we led the nation in reducing shootings and murders," Booker, who became mayor on July 1, 2006, said during the interview.
That’s quite a claim for any city to make – and PolitiFact New Jersey found that it’s not exactly provable.
Booker spokeswoman Anne Torres said the mayor’s reduction claim was in terms of a percentage, not whole numbers, and was based on calendar years (Jan. 1 through Dec. 31). She added that the city reviewed numbers from its police department data and from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which is the standard database to review crime nationwide in numerous categories.
But there are a couple of problems with attempting to verify the mayor’s statistic.
First, shootings are not a separate category covered by the Uniform Crime Report. Shootings fall under the category of Aggravated Assault, but so do attacks with knives, baseball bats and a host of other weapons.
Secondly, the FBI cautions Uniform Crime Report users against any type of ranking, because of numerous differences in community characteristics.
As a result, the FBI wouldn’t comment directly on how Newark compares with the rest of the country.
"The FBI's UCR Program would not provide a ranking of any sort," FBI Multimedia Productions Chief Stephen G. Fischer Jr. said in an e-mail. "Data on aggravated assault is collected by type of weapon, of which firearm is a breakdown. However, it is not possible to report if a victim was shot, only that the weapon was involved in the incident."
Even though Torres said the mayor’s comment was in the context of a percentage drop, she provided us whole numbers to back up Booker’s statement:
|Shooting Hit Incidents||435||335||297||256|
|Shooting Hit Victims||502||396||344||316|
Torres explained that shooting hit incidents "are the number of incidents where any number of people are shot. Shooting victims are the number of people total shot in all incidents."
So, shooting incidents and shooting victims dropped from 2006 to 2009, based on those statistics.
Torres also noted that a shooting resulting in a fatality is counted once, in the murder column.
A Star-Ledger database of Newark homicide statistics for a longer timeframe shows slightly different figures than Torres’, but also confirms a decline from 2006 to 2009:
And Booker has referenced the drop in crime before his appearance on NJToday, Torres said.
"The Mayor has spoken about this issue a number of times throughout his time in office, most recently during his 2012 State of the City speech, where he said: ‘One area that we must increase the pace of progress is in making our city safe. Remember, by 2010 we were among the leaders in the nation for reductions in shootings and murders and even enjoyed the first month without a murder in Newark in 49 years,’" Torres said in an e-mail. "This is a true statement representative of the work we’ve done to reduce violent crime in the City. "
Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio attributed the city’s crime drop to new crime-fighting efforts and more staff.
Although it’s unclear exactly where and how Newark ranked in these categories compared with the rest of the country, a criminal statistics expert told us that nationwide, crime trended downward during Booker’s first term as mayor.
"Look at the whole country taken together, not just cities," said Andrew Karmen, a sociology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in crime statistics. "The whole country did experience a very impressive drop in crime in 2008, 2009 and 2010."
The number of murders nationwide based on Uniform Crime Report data for each year from 2006 through 2010 supports Karmen’s statement:
Former Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy, who served during Booker’s first term, did not return a request for comment. McCarthy left Newark about a year ago to become Chicago’s police superintendent.
Overall, it’s clear that shootings and murders decreased in Newark during Booker’s first term in office, and the Brick City mirrored the national downward trend in murders for that period. But compared with every locale in the rest of the country? That’s worthy of a Ph.D. thesis, Karmen said:
"Confirming what the mayor said is impossible because he did not define the comparison group."
To comment on this story, go to NJ.com.
NJToday video, "Newark Mayor Talks About NYPD Surveillance and Crime in His City," March 22, 2012, accessed online March 29 and 30, 2012
NJ.com, "Newark officials praise recent dip in violent crime despite overall 2011 climb in homicides, shootings," Jan. 25, 2012, accessed March 29, 2012
NJ.com, "Newark crime: Tragic stories behind the statistics," Jan. 15, 2012, accessed March 29, 2012
NJ.com, "Since taking office, Mayor Cory Booker’s star status rose as Newark struggled to reform," July 24, 2011, accessed March 29, 2012
NJ.com, "Newark’s murder rate is on track to beat all-time low," July 1, 2008, accessed March 29, 2012
E-mail interviews with Anne Torres, spokeswoman for Newark Mayor Cory Booker, March 29, 2012 to April 5, 2012
E-mail interview with Stephen G. Fischer Jr., FBI Multimedia Productions chief, April 10, 2012
Phone interview with Samuel DeMaio, Newark police director, April 11, 2012
Phone interview with Andrew Karmen, sociology professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, April 12, 2012