The estimated 82 people who came to see respective Samuel DeMaio and Sheilah Coley of the Newark Police Department here at the First Avenue School Auditorium Aug. 10 got more than a get-acquainted session.
DeMaio, as officially appointed Newark Police Director, and Coley, as the city's latest Chief of Police, demonstrated that they have hit the beat running despite being respectively having been on their job for three months or three days.
DeMaio, for example, said that he is planning to open a satellite Second Precinct station once the new Schools Stadium is opened about three blocks northwest of the school. The director added that he has brought back the NPD helicopter, motorcycle, mounted horse and bicycle units that were cut from the municipal budget earlier this year.
Coley said that there will be additional police units and patrols to assist Second Precinct Commander Capt. Antonio Perez.
Both top police officers said that they have recommitted themselves to reducing and preventing crime by working with the community and neighboring departments.
Coley, DeMaio, Perez and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr. also fielded questions from 12 audience members. The questions ranged from illegal night drag racing along North Seventh Street towards I-280 to keeping students safe while they travel to First Avenue or Science Park High School.
The hour-long session was moderated by News12 New Jersey reporter Rick Holmes and First Avenue School teacher Steve Sacco. Sacco told "Local Talk" Aug. 16 that he is still getting positive feedback from neighbors about the Wednesday night session.
"It wasn't the largest turnout - it was midweek in the summer," said Sacco. "We try to organize these town meetings four or five times a year."
Sacco was pleased with how timely his latest guests' appearances were. The City Council unanimously upgraded DeMaio's appointment Aug. 3.
"I went as far back as I could with city records," said Newark's 14th police director. "Aug. 3 was the first time the council approved a police director with a 9-0 vote."
City elders re-established the Chief of Police job title, which was dropped in 2008, and appointed Coley acting chief. Coley, a 22-year veteran, is to be formally sworn-in Aug. 19.
"Like Director DeMaio, I grew up in Newark always wanting to be a police officer," said Coley. "It's an honor to be the first female and African American Chief of Police. I much rather think that I've excelled at every task given to me on a sometimes uneven playing field."
DeMaio was quick to recall that he grew up nearby on North Seventh Street, when his father was a motorcycle patrol officer. His experience includes working in the Second, or North, Precinct.
"Capt. Perez is overseeing the largest precinct in the city," said DeMaio. "It has 68,000 residents in the North Ward, Roseville, North and Lower Broadway and part of Fairmount. The precinct borders East Orange, Bloomfield and Belleville."
DeMaio stressed the importance of communicating with neighboring law enforcers since "crime knows no boundaries." He cited the officer exchange program with Belleville, where a Newark and Belleville officer are paired for patrols and community meetings.
DeMaio's comments caught the attention - and concurrence - of First Avenue teacher and nine-year Bloomfield Councilwoman Janice Maly.
Both DeMaio and Coley said that they are working to restore officer and resident morale in the wake of the past year's budget cuts. A negotiations impasse between Mayor Cory A. Booker's administration and Fraternal Order of Police Local 10 officials led to the laying off of 167 NPD officers Nov. 30. Both top cops said that there had been a spike in crime into July but they and their charges are curtailing that increase.
DeMaio and Coley are spending more time than outgoing Police Director Gerry McCarthy in attending community events. They are continuing the Community Roll Call-Summer Crime Cooperative Response and Enforcement program. SCORE involves parking a NPD mobile command center at a targeted intersection and developing community-police referrals and contacts while officers enforce curfews and other quality of life crimes.
Several floor speakers helped keep the focus on the North Ward by saying, "You're doing a great job in the South and Central Wards - but what about here?"
One resident said that illegal drag racing on Seventh Street has been going on "from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m., and they move from one corner to another."
The officers on stage replied that they will continue to patrol the area. They also urge that such incidents ought to come to the precinct commander's attention.
"I'm a big fan of calling your police captain," said DeMaio. "The captain can bring an officer to a site or respond sooner than by calling the citywide phone numbers. The more descriptive information you have the better."
"Our children are smart enough to get into a magnet school like Science Park High," said another speaker. "Can we get them to be smart enough to hide their $300 iPods and $500 jackets? They get robbed on their way out and back on the City Subway and even in front of Science High."
"We will be having more patrols out by Science Park in the morning and on dismissal," said DeMaio. "We are working with the Newark Public Schools security on several issues. We also have a working relationship with the NJTransit Police Department."
"Local Talk," while waiting at Bloomfield Avenue Station for the 10:12 to Penn Station, noticed three presumably plainclothes NJTPD officers question six fellow passengers for valid tickets - and detain half of them for further questioning.