“I don't know what frustrates me more,” a Newark police official told the New York Times. “These knuckleheads killing each other, or the residents who won't cooperate with my officers.” The lack of cooperation – steeped in public mistrust that has been simmering at a low boil since the 1967 riots and fueled by hip-hop culture's “stop snitching” mantra – is among the major roadblocks Mayor Cory Booker faces in his struggle to curb the lawlessness in New Jersey's largest city.
Booker, who took office last July after the 20-year reign of Sharpe James, has staked his career on a promise to stanch the bloodshed. He is relying on Garry McCarthy, the no-nonsense police director he lured from New York, to revolutionize the department. They are fighting a war with a 1,250-member army plagued by low morale and “Barney Miller”-era technology, with a shortage of patrol cars, lockers, computers, and bullet-resistant vests. The police department has a legacy of scandal and a patronage system that elevated inept officers and drove embittered veterans into better-paying jobs in neighboring towns. McCarthy has instructed commanders in the city's four precincts to take on quality-of-life offenses like public drinking and loitering, following the broken windows theory that tolerating small infractions can encourage more serious crimes. Many people have credited that approach with helping reverse New York City's staggering homicide rate of two decades ago. While violent crime has dropped since January – armed robberies are down 42 percent and auto theft 28 percent compared with last year – homicides have not let up. Last year, 105 people, most of them young black men, were killed.