Newark police and city officials say a de-escalation training program is working, especially in a year faced with challenges. Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose says 2020 was the roughest year in his 34-year career in law enforcement. Six of their 1,100 officers lost their lives to COVID-19 with dozens more officers sick after being exposed on the job.
They also faced major challenges during the summer’s anti-police brutality protests. Through it all, Ambrose says not one officer in the city fired his or her weapon while on duty in 2020.”It was the unknown. It was the unknown that you didn’t know with this disease that you were coming here every day, and these police officers and firefighters going out there, and we didn’t know,” says Ambrose. For Newark police, it was a year of COVID-19 fears, obstacles and losses. “We lost six police officers and going to six funerals, it all wears on you,” Ambrose says.
There was also the major tension on the streets of the city, following the death of George Floyd. “We had protests, and they tried to take over of one of our precincts,” Ambrose says.2020 was tough for the Newark Police Department. But despite all of that, top brass report an impressive statistic to round out 2020.Ambrose says not one police officer fired a weapon in 2020. He credits a de-escalation program implemented in Newark two years go. “These things, it takes time for it to work. And I think it worked,” Ambrose says.
Overall crime was down 6% this year. The city saw 51 homicides, the same as 2019. Non-fatal shootings were up in the city, and 61 of them had multiple victims. But more guns were taken off the streets. Police officers recovered 496 illegal firearms, a 7% increase over last year when officers took 461 illegal weapons off the street. “I’m proud of the men and women of Newark police division who took the guns off the street this year. Didn’t fire a shot, came to work during a pandemic, arrested people with guns during the pandemic,” Ambrose says.
Ambrose says the true test of that training was on May 30 during a Black Lives Matter protest in which about 1,700 people swarmed a precinct in an attempt to take it over. Not one shot was fired during the incident and nobody was severely injured.