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Newark approach to violent crimes changes

The Newark police department is changing how it deals with non-fatal violent crimes. Instead of putting all its resources into solving homicides, it is adding detectives to the major crimes unit for nonfatal shootings and robberies. The thinking behind this is to treat nonfatal shootings as if they were homicides; if a gunman shot somebody once, there's a good chance it will happen again with more drastic results.

This strategy worked in Patterson, which has suffered equally stringent budget cutting. The police in Patterson have a much improved closure rate for non-fatal shootings since implementing the new strategy. Robberies are also down, because the shooters are off the streets, according to the police chief.

The changes in Newark were implemented after a Star-Ledger story revealed that more than 2000 nonfatal shootings remained unsolved between 2008 and 2011. Police only solved one in four cases, according to the report. In contrast, Patterson, which has the special unit devoted to nonfatal shootings, has a closeout rate of around 50 percent. That city has focused on nonfatal violent crimes since 2007.

Baltimore has also adopted this approach, and the number of nonfatal shooting cases closed has increased significantly. In 2012, police were able to close more than half of the cases.

The difference between fatal and nonfatal shootings is often a matter of aim, luck, and a few centimeters. According to Wayne Fisher, a professor at the Rutgers Police Institute, "It's no different than a homicide except for where the bullet lands."

Source: Star-Ledger, "Newark police boss makes smart reforms on crime, complaints: Editorial," Feb. 18, 2013.

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