Gov. Jon Corzine and state Attorney General Anne Milgram attributed the drop, at least in part, to a statewide initiative launched last summer to target street gangs and violent crime.
"The release of these crime report statistics shows that we are winning important battles in the war against violent criminals and gangs," Corzine said in East Orange.Corzine said more than 4,200 offenders have been arrested for crimes including murder, assault with a firearm, armed robbery, and gun and drug trafficking. State police Uniform Crime Report statistics show there were 158 reported homicides statewide in the first six months of this year, compared to 209 during the same time period in 2008 - a 24 percent drop.
The report also shows that murders declined statewide in 2008, marking the first time since 1999 that New Jersey has seen a drop in murders for two consecutive years. Murders dropped 11 percent in 2007 to 381, the lowest number since 2002. They dropped to 376 in 2008.
The broader category of violent crime also declined in each of the past two years. It declined 7 percent in 2007, and dropped another .7 percent in 2008.
"The latest statistics demonstrate real progress in our fight against gangs and violent crime in New Jersey," Milgram said. "We have taken a very direct approach under Governor Corzine's anti-crime plan, conducting intelligence-led, high-impact investigations targeting the command structures and the most violent members of the toughest street gangs. By removing hundreds of violent gangsters from our streets, we have made our communities safer."
The results are the second phase of the statewide violence reduction initiative implemented under the state's Strategy for Safe Streets and Neighborhoods. The initiative involves a collaborative effort across all levels of law enforcement to target the most violent street gangs and reduce the drug trafficking and gun violence.
Since January, law enforcement agencies have arrested a total of 2,376 offenders under the initiative for crimes including murder, assault with a firearm, armed robbery, and drug and gun trafficking.
Those arrested include 606 suspected street gang members belonging to such gangs as the Bloods, CRIPS, Latin Kings, and others. Several hundred more of the arrested offenders were associated with drug gangs. About 1,047 or 44 percent of those arrested have violent criminal backgrounds.
More than 409 guns were seized, including 30 assault weapons. That is an increase of 152 percent from the first phase of the initiative when 162 guns were seized. Drugs with a street value of $5.3 million were seized in the second phase, compared to $4 million in drugs in the first phase.
Putting together both phases, more than 4,220 arrests have been made since the initiative began last summer, including more than 1,136 suspected street gang members, and more than 1,647 offenders with violent criminal backgrounds. More than $3 million in cash has been seized.
As a result of operations during both phases, authorities were able to prevent 14 homicides. They solved 30 homicides.
For the first six months of this year, the overall statewide homicide rate was down every month as compared to the same month in 2008. The sharp decline in murders during the past 12 months coincided with implementation of the first two phases of the statewide violence reduction initiative.
There were 209 murders in New Jersey during the first six months of 2008. In the second half of 2008, as the first phase of the statewide violence reduction initiative was implemented, there were 170 homicides, a 19 percent decline from the first six months of the year.
During the first half of this year, as the second phase was implemented, there were 158 homicides, an additional decline of 7 percent from the prior six months. New Jersey is on track to see a third straight year of declines in murders, Milgram said.
Corzine and Milgram also announced a new program to assist law enforcement in tracking gangs.
NJ CrimeTrack, which begins this month, is a statewide intelligence-sharing initiative spearheaded by the State Police that will provide a database for law enforcement agencies across the state to collect, store and share their criminal intelligence related to street gangs and their illegal activities.
Police departments will follow clear protocols to identify known gang members and report whenever they investigate or respond to an incident involving gang members.
During the pilot phase of this new program, more than 3,400 gang members have been identified, based on reports from the 16 law enforcement agencies participating in the pilot. That number is expected to grow as the program goes statewide.
"Knowledge truly is power in the fight against crime," Milgram said. "Just as we have enhanced our ability to investigate illegal gun trafficking in New Jersey through NJ Trace, our partnership with ATF to trace all guns recovered in connection with crime in New Jersey, we will now be able to better leverage our information on gangs."
– TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM