In Light Of Public Safety Crisis, Rice Calls For Newark Audits

Senator Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex, addresses his colleagues on the Senate floor.

Says Money Should go to Keep Streets Safe, Not Enrich Politically-Connected

NEWARK – During a point of personal privilege yesterday during a Senate voting session, Senator Ronald L. Rice rose to point out the ongoing public safety crisis in Newark, in which 41 people have been shot in the last 31 days in the Brick City. Senator Rice said that, in addition to more State aid to increase police presence in the city, that a thorough accounting of Newark’s finances must be conducted to make sure money isn’t being wasted on the politically-connected.

“We are facing a crime epidemic in Newark, and the Newark Police Department isn’t getting enough support from the Christie Administration and City officials to keep local residents safe,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “This isn’t hyperbole or political rhetoric – people are dying almost daily. Unless we refocus existing local resources where they’re needed, and not on partisan waste, and unless the State recognizes the severity of this public safety crisis and steps in, people will continue to die. We need help, from within and from outside the city’s limits, and right now, we’re not getting it.”

During yesterday’s speech on the Senate floor, Senator Rice listed many of the shootings that had taken place in Newark over the last three weeks, including:

• three separate shootings on the night of July 11 in which twelve were injured and a 15-year-old was killed;

• a July 10 shooting which left one person in critical condition;

• an early-morning shooting spree on July 5 in which three people were killed and three others injured in four separate shootings;

• an attempted robbery on July 3 which led to a man being shot several times;

• two separate incidents in which one man was killed and two others wounded on July 1;

Senator Rice said that while Newark police officers have “made a heroic effort” to keep the city safe with limited public safety resources, it has become apparent that lay-offs, force reductions and other cost-cutting initiatives have taken a toll on the safety of the city.

“The police who are on the job now are doing their level best, but without sufficient manpower and resources, they’re being overrun,” said Senator Rice. “New Jersey’s leaders shouldn’t be okay with surrendering Newark to the criminal element, and local leaders need to spend more time focusing on the real problems in the city.”

Senator Rice said he hopes that Governor Christie and Legislative Republicans begin to recognize the serious public safety needs of Newark. Yesterday, the Senate debated restoring $50 million in public safety funds for hard-hit cities in the FY 2012 Budget approved by the Legislature – funds which were cut by Governor Christie through the use of the line-item veto. While Republicans failed to stand up with Democrats in favor of the funding, Senator Rice said that State leaders could make a supplemental appropriation to address Newark’s public safety deficit.

“Unfortunately, the debate yesterday devolved into ‘us vs. them’ politics, and while I was disappointed that my Republican colleagues wouldn’t stand up for the people I represent, I remain hopeful that they’ll open their eyes to the plight of law-abiding citizens in Newark,” said Senator Rice. “The failure of Senate Republicans to stand with us in an attempted veto override is not the end of this discussion.”

In the meantime, the Senator said New Jersey regulators should conduct financial audits of several local Newark agencies to uncover misspent funds and put them to better use for the people of the city. Specifically, he said that the State should look at the Newark Downtown Core Redevelopment Corporation, the Brick City Economic Development Corporation, the Newark Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ), the Newark Housing Authority, the Newark Parking Authority, and the Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training (the Newark One-Stop).

He said that a recent investigation by The Star Ledger uncovered millions of dollars spent to develop the Triangle Park project on the site of an existing parking lot – a project which has not gotten underway. Senator Rice said that the money wasted on Triangle Park would have been better spent to put more police on the streets.

“We should understand that the public safety crisis going on in Newark isn’t entirely of the State’s making,” said Senator Rice. “While I believe the State does have a role in keeping Newark safe, we need to account for every dollar and cent spent by the city, and make sure it’s going to the maximum benefit of Newark’s residents. Right now, I don’t believe that’s happening.”

Senator Rice said he plans to work with anyone interested in making Newark safer.

“At the end of the day, it’s about making people safe,” said Senator Rice. “I don’t care about party labels, or who’s been allied with who in the past. We need to put petty politics behind us and come together to make sure Newark has the resources it needs to be safe.”