Driven largely by a rise in gang recruitment, New Jersey’s murder total rose by 19 percent last year, an increase that far outpaced the nation and the average for other states in the Northeast, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. Attorney General Peter Harvey touted a 3 percent decrease in overall crime and reductions for every major offense except murder. The year saw the fewest number of total crimes reported in New Jersey since 1972. Harvey said the murder increase, from 341 in 2002 to 406 last year, should be attributed to the continuing rise of violence by gangs like the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings. “Sooner or later the state is going to recognize that gangs are one of its biggest problems,” said Harvey. “They are everywhere.”
New Jersey’s murder total has been increasing since 287 slayings were recorded in 1999, a trend mirrored in a number of states and major cities across the country. Last year’s murder total in New Jersey was the highest since 1995, but still far short of the record of 544 murders set in 1973. Michael Wagers, director of the Police Institute at Rutgers University in Newark, said the gang presence was suggested in what would otherwise be a puzzling statistic in Newark. While murders are up, shootings and aggravated assaults declined. He said this could suggest that a higher percentage of the murders are well-targeted executions, noting the same trend was being seen in Los Angeles and Boston. “We are seeing very targeted killings by organized groups of people,” he said.