New Jersey crime dropped last year to its lowest level in a generation, but police solved a smaller percentage of murder and rape cases in 2004 than at any other time in more than a decade, says the Newark Star-Ledger. The number of crimes in the state dropped 4 percent between 2003 and 2004, reaching the lowest level since 1969. State Attorney General Peter Harvey said the increased attention to homeland security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks may be one reason crime continued to spiral downward.
Still, the percentage of the state’s most serious crimes being solved reached historically low levels. Police solved 62 percent of the state’s 392 homicides last year, the worst rate since at least 1987. The clearance rate on rape cases was also at its lowest point for that period. Michael Wagers of the Police Institute at Rutgers-Newark blamed the changing face of drug dealing. Street gangs, he said, have begun to attack one another en masse rather than solve disputes in one-on-one showdowns. The change in tactics has left detectives with the unenviable task of sorting through a large number of potential suspects to find the person who actually pulled the trigger, Wagers said. Authorities also are having a more difficult time getting potential witnesses to come forward to identify the shooters. “Good citizens are fearful of coming forward to identify a shooter to the police,” Wagers said. “And the associates of the victim involved in the shooting are reluctant to identify (the killer) because obviously they’re going to settle the score themselves versus cooperating with police.”