Citing a need to consolidate resources, cut government costs and streamline city bureaucracy, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka pushed forward his proposal to create a new public safety department that would eradicate Newark's police director and fire director positions.
"We need these changes. We need this pain," said Baraka at a news conference at City Hall on Monday, the day before a city council meeting that will begin the process of passing legislation that will consolidate both the police and the fire department's upper echelons, putting police, fire and emergency management personnel under the leadership of a sole public safety director. "It is going to shake the police department up, probably because people don't like change. But in terms of cost saving, this is a no-brainer."
Mayor Ras Baraka announces a shakeup in Newark's public safety structure at a City Hall press conference.
Anthony Ambrose, Newark's Police Director and Chief of Police from 1999 to 2006, will become the city's first public safety director, according to Baraka. Ambrose currently serves as the Chief of Investigators for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.
Baraka noted numerous positions will "no longer be necessary," including the police director, a job currently held by Eugene Venable, and the fire director, currently held by James Stewart. The elimination of a total of six positions in the police and fire department's will save the city approximately $585,000, according to city figures. The mayor also noted, however, that there is no plan in the immediate future to remove these officials from these positions, specifically stating that Venable would work closely with Ambrose in the new command structure.
North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. offered support for Ambrose's appointment to the new position.
"My experience was that former Police Chief Ambrose made a lot of positive changes in the Newark Police Department. His track record is exemplary, and his no-nonsense attitude is what we need," Ramos said, noting Ambrose's positive working relationships with Essex County and federal law enforcement. "I really have to commend the mayor for taking this important step in creating a public safety department. It's going to create a lot of efficiency in both departments and put more people where they are needed, which is in the community. This is a bold step."
Denise Cole, a lifelong Newark resident of who lives in the city's crime-embattled South Ward, said that while she generally supports the mayor, she does not support Baraka's public safety proposal, particularly because the community was not consulted.
"If you're gong to change a city dynamic, then you should first have to have community meetings in all wards and let your constituents have their say," said Cole, 56. "We don't even have a chance to weigh in during the press conference. They only want to hear from people who don't live in this community, who don't experience the crime and who don't experience their voices being suppressed. We need to be involved, including meetings that should be held by the council people that we voted in."
But at a time when the city administration is trying to get a new police academy class on to the streets as soon as possible to help curb a crime rate that includes 98 homicides in Newark this year, Baraka insisted that changes in the city's public safety structure need to be made.
"Some of the personalities that are involved in this may cause issues. But Jersey City, Irvington and East Orange have all done it," Baraka said, pointing out neighboring municipalities that have created the position of public safety director. "There needs to be less people accountable, not a thousand people accountable."