This fall, the Newark Police Department will offer gang members two choices: quit the life or go to federal prison.
The strategy — known as Ceasefire — was outlined to Patch this week by Acting Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio.
The roughly $600,000 plan to combat gang and drug activity in Newark will focus on targeting gang-ridden neighborhoods with the help of experts from two area universities.
"It's giving the worst of the worst — as far as the criminals in our city — an avenue to get out of the game," said DeMaio, "other than us trying to arrest our way out of the problem, which is never going to work."
DeMaio said the program, a brainchild of David Kennedy, the director for the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, will be in place by September or October and will be coordinated out of the department's narcotics and gang units.
Newark has an estimated 23 street gangs with more than 2,600 members, according to a 2010 study released by the New Jersey State Police.
The police director said Ceasefire would target gang offenders and give them the option to change their way of life by turning away from crime. If they don't, police presence would increase tremendously and those arrested would spend time in federal jail.
DeMaio said once the neighborhoods and gang members are identified, they would be "called" for a meeting. "They will be told, 'We know who you are, we know what you've been doing and it's not going to be business as usual,' " he said. "'We're coming after you and when we get you, you're not going to go through the state system … but you're going to go through the federal system and wind up in some place like Montana or Colorado or far, far from home without your friends being that close.' "
DeMaio said the city has been working with Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice in Newark and John Jay to collect data and pinpoint a section of the city to start the program.
He said Rutgers University has hired a retired Newark deputy police chief as the project leader.
"It has to be an area — a central core — where everything tentacles out from there," DeMaio said about the starting location. "So, if it's an area that's a main hub or a main drug spot and there's numerous other areas in the city that branch off of this area, then that's what we're going to select."
Kennedy said the schools are "working together" with the police department to develop intelligence for the program. He said staff and faculty are working on Ceasefire — not students.
"We look at the way chronic offenders and violent groups are connected to violence in the city and then we look at the numbers of violent incidents and those produce a local picture of what's driving the violence," he said. "Then, that gets back to shaping the strategy and informing actual operations."
Kennedy didn't provide a specific timeline when the schools began working with the city, but said it's been within "a few months."
'It Can Work'
Newark Mayor Cory Booker said the strategy is effective for Newark and has worked in other cities, including High Point, N.C., and Boston.
"The evidence is clear that where they've done it before, they've seen dramatic drops in crime and it's also something that has created a healing between community and police," he said. "It's not about making mass arrests or stopping a hundred people to find three or four criminals. It's about creating a real bond that strengthens the community ... in policing itself."
Jim Summey, executive director of the High Point Community Against Violence program, told Patch his organization has been working with the city, though it's been a few months since he's been in contact with Newark officials.
"This plan they're utilizing started here," he said. "We're all working together on this, though, we're just the ones that kind of got this thing into a movable, adaptable model."
Irene Cooper-Basch, executive officer at the Victoria Foundation, said her organization helped spearhead the efforts of Ceasefire nearly 18 months ago.
She said it started when trustees and staff from the foundation screened "Moral Panic," a documentary produced by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. The movie highlights ways to make gang activity less violent by bringing together activists, faith leaders, educators and gang members, according to the institute.
"(This plan) is not strictly law enforcement, but also partners with community organizations that will provide a different lifestyle to those who wish to change," she said.
The foundation has donated $200,000 towards the roughly $600,000 needed annually to run the operation, according to Cooper-Basch. She said the Nicholson Foundation has matched the $200,000 and that Prudential also has contributed money.
Booker told Patch Wednesday that fundraising efforts for the project are ongoing and that more than half the cash needed has been raised.
"It's a concept that sells," he said. "People are looking for public safety innovations that will really make a difference. A dollar invested in this kind of initiative is a dollar that can be leveraged to make a difference in millions of people's lives."
Cooper-Basch said Rutgers is leading the fundraising efforts.
DeMaio said since the operation is privately funded, it won't cost the city any money — just manpower.
"We have to be connected with the community because there's no way we can solve all the problems of the city on our own," he said. "I know this can work."