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Student Slayings Signal Deadly Trend in Newark

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

And I'm Andrea Seabrook.

In Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker says the reward now stands at $150,000 for information on last Saturday night's schoolyard shooting. It left three college students dead and a fourth seriously injured. Police say they have promising leads in the investigation, but that is unlikely to end the anger, frustration and fear that have swept across the city.

Newark's young mayor came to office a year ago on a promise to make the city safer, and while crime rates overall have dropped 30 percent, the murder rate has remained among the worst in the nation.

Nancy Solomon reports.

NANCY SOLOMON: Once again, a distraught Newark parent spoke out about the violence that has taken more young lives.

Mr. JAMES HARVEY: Hello, America. My name is James Harvey. My son, Dashon Harvey, was killed over the weekend.

SOLOMON: His son and two close friends, Terrance Aeriel and Iofemi Hightower, were marched to a wall behind an elementary school, forced to kneel, and one by one shot in the head in what police think was a robbery. They were murders number 57, 58 and 59 so far this year in Newark. But they differed from most of the city's violent crime, which is often centered on the drug trade.

The victims and 19-year-old Natasha Aeriel, who survived a gunshot to the head, were in college, had been active in the community, and were model high school students. Newark residents say they're impatient with Mayor Cory Booker's progress fighting crime. But the mayor says he's rebuilding a police department he inherited in disarray.

Mayor CORY BOOKER (Democrat, Newark, New Jersey): Sixty percent of our police officers were on during the daytime shift, and not the two nighttime shifts when most crime happens. We have 30 percent of our police officers behind desks. We didn't even have computers in our precincts. Cops are still writing out reports on typewriters. And I know residents have every right to demand that change happens quickly, but we haven't even yet fully modernized it to the point where we need to.

SOLOMON: Standing on the elementary school grounds where the murders were committed, Booker's new police director Garry McCarthy says he's focused for now on solving the crime. Later, he says, he'll answer the questions that remain.

Mr. GARRY McCARTHY (Director, Newark Police Department): We saw a robbery that occurred that we should have intervened and then maybe prevented this from occurring, that we not do quality of life enforcement at the right place at the right time where we may have caught people with the guns that were used in this crime. Was there a narcotics investigation that wasn't done in a timely fashion that may have intervened and stopped this from happening in some level?

SOLOMON: This is the sort of analysis that McCarthy directed as deputy commissioner in New York City - a neighborhood-by-neighborhood study of crime that allowed police leaders to continually move officers where they were needed. McCarthy and the mayor are advocates of what's called broken windows policing, focusing on petty crimes to clean up neighborhoods.

George Kelling, a professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University in Newark, has written extensively about the practice. He says crackdowns on simple crimes like subway fare jumpers or traffic offenses can yield results.

Professor GEORGE KELLING (School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University): It's not that all people who commit minor offenses or drive badly are criminals, but a lot of criminals drive badly and commit minor offenses. And if you intervene by stopping them and asking the next question, what is that bulge, and if you fear for your safety to check that bulge to see whether it's a gun, it's seems to me if there's anything that needs to be done in Newark and that is to interfere with gun carrying in public spaces.

SOLOMON: Although Newark is taking these steps, Kelling says, it will take time. The lag between overall crime rates dropping while homicides remain high is not uncommon but not well understood either. Kelling and others who study policing strategies say the homicide rate will eventually follow. But for now, that's not much solace for a city sagging under the weight of unremitting violence.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Solomon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nancy Solomon