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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Over the past two years, the city has seen a sharp increase in both assaults and robberies where the weapon used was a gun, according to State Police statistics.
Violent crime continues to be a problem for the City of New Brunswick, according to residents, police radio transmissions, and new statistics released by the NJ State Police.
The numbers are from 2015, the same year Rutgers University made headlines after several current and former school football players were criminally charged with executing armed home invasion robberies in New Brunswick, and breaking the jaw of a 19-year-old student on a city street.
But the most severe increase came in the category “assaults with knives or cutting instruments,” which were up 157.1% compared to the same reports from 2013.
Two categories–robberies at gunpoint, and robberies in general–are up about 40% over the same time period.
Another alarming trend revealed in the stats is that more guns are being fired, or otherwise used as weapons, in the Hub City. The category “assaults with guns” increased from 21 in 2013, to 31 in 2014, and 32 in 2015.
In the past two years, assaults with guns increased 52.4%, according to the statistics.
The State Police stats are the best available because the city’s police department does not put out its own data. It can be hard to draw conclusions from the broad categories.
For example, the state data does not include many traditional metrics like “shootings,” “stabbings,” “attempted murders,” or “DWI/DUI.”
Still, the categories included can convey some scary statistics when examined critically. There were 59 robberies with guns, meaning people were robbed at gunpoint more often than once a week in New Brunswick during 2015.
Of the 97 robberies with dangerous weapons reported in 2015, another 29 involved knives or cutting instruments. Nine involved another “dangerous weapon” besides a gun, a knife, or a cutting instrument.
Another 135 “strongarm” robberies, where no weapons were displayed or used made for a total of 232 robberies, a 40.6% increase over 2013.
The statistics also mean that someone was assaulted with a knife or cutting instrument on a weekly basis in New Brunswick, with 54 stabbings and slashings over 52 weeks.
In 2015, New Brunswick saw two of the county’s eleven murders, but that doesn’t include a Hub City resident who was murdered in South Brunswick.
Both of the city’s reported murders were stabbings in 2015. It was the lowest number of homicides for New Brunswick since 2007.
The last time the city experienced no reported homicides in a single year was 1996.
The city experienced a record-high eight murders in 2003, and again in 2012. There were three reported murders in 2013, and four in 2014, although community members have raised concerns that a man who died after being assaulted was not counted in the total, and should have been considered a homicide by police.
The four murders in 2014 all occurred in the first half of the year, between February 15 and June 7. Three of them occurred in the area of New Brunswick between the Northeast Corridor railroad tracks and Remsen Avenue.
One man was allegedly beaten to death with a hammer, another fatally struck by a bottle, and the other two murder victims were shot and killed. The victims were all men, ranging from ages 22 to 53.
After nearly a year without a murder, a late-night stabbing inside a downtown luxury apartment claimed the life of a 23-year-old area resident.
Police quickly arrested a 16-year-old from Bridgewater, whose father worked at the building, Pennrose’s “Skyline Tower,” and charged him with the killing. The teenager will be tried as an adult.
Less than two months later, a 23-year-old man was stabbed outside a restaurant on Suydam Street. He was pronounced dead at the hospital, becoming the city’s second murder victim of the year.
It’s not clear if murders are also counted as assaults in the statistics.
According to the stats, there were about two assaults each day in 2015, on average, and every twelve days, someone was “assaulted” with a gun, with 32 such incidents in total:
|New Brunswick PD Assault Statistics||2013||2014||2015|
Assaults with Guns
(many of these are likely “shootings”)
Assaults with Knives or “Cutting Instruments”
(many of these are likely “stabbings”)
Total Assaults w/ Dangerous Weapons
(guns, knives, & “other dangerous weapons”)
“(Hands, Fists, Feet, etc.)”
“(Hands, Fists, Feet, etc.)”
It’s an important decision left to police officers, and one that can drastically affect victims and suspects in the future: When no dangerous weapon is involved, cops decide whether to file charges of “simple” assault or “aggravated” assault.
Simple assaults are down 7% over the past two years, while serious assaults went up 32%, and assaults overall went down 1%.
In 2013, roughly 15% of assaults were considered “aggravated,” but the next year the percentage shot up to 28.6%. In 2015, it was in between the two extremes: 20.1%.
After Rutgers University agreed to expand its crime alert system to include “serious” incidents, residents would eventually learn that one of the key distinctions about what makes a crime worthy of an alert is whether or not an assault is deemed “simple” or “aggravated.”
“As you know the numbers just came out,” said Mayor James Cahill in an exclusive interview on February 2 “We’re taking a hard look at them now and we’re in the process of analyzing and reviewing them.”
Asked what the police were doing to address the increase, Cahill did not reveal many specifics.
“What the police have been doing is increasing manpower…and looking for better ways of deployment, and more efficient ways of deployment as well.”
The numbers themselves may be incomplete, due to crimes that are not reported, or hard to prove that they happened.
New Brunswick has had a crime problem for a long time, and part of the problem is that police and residents often do not communicate.
For example, police respond to a seemingly countless number of “shots fired” calls, many of which they are never able to confirm. In 2014, for example, dispatch logs show police responded to 97 “shootings,” though just 31 ended up in the official statistics.
Many other deliberate shootings that police have been investigated but not solved. Seven of the 32 “assaults with guns” cases were “cleared” according to the statistics.
Solved or unsolved, unless a victim passes away, the shootings end up listed merely as “assaults” with a gun, even though victims might be paralyzed or otherwise permanently injured and traumatized.
Both intended targets and innocent bystanders have been struck by gunfire and most survive, usually after a visit to one of the city’s two major hospitals.
One New Brunswick police captain had disputed the validity of the State Police data, telling the City Council that the numbers are “not valid.”
According to the website where they are available, which is operated by the State Police: “The reported data is preliminary and may or may not include ancillary contributing agencies, such as; State Police, New Jersey Transit Police, Park Police and Port Authority Police.”
That means the actual numbers are likely even higher, because they don’t include Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) investigations.
RUPD reported ten rape cases, seven robberies, sixteen serious assaults, 75 “simple” assaults, 55 burglaries, 469 larcenies, and three car thefts in 2015, but those numbers include incidents in Piscataway as well as New Brunswick.
Previously, another Captain had taken issue with New Brunswick Today’s reporting, specifically NJ State Police statistics that we published regarding the department’s clearance rate, or the percentage of crimes that are solved.
While 100% of the two murders were solved in 2015, the statistics are very different for the other categories in the Uniform Crime Report:
- rapes: 23.1% solved
- robberies: 15.9% solved
- serious assaults: 43.1% solved
- simple assaults: 32.5% solved
- burglaries: 7.9% solved
- larceny: 11.0% solved
- motor vehicle theft: 8.0% solved
According to the NJSP stats released on January 29, the NBPD’s current clearance rate for 2015 crimes stands at 19.0%. By comparison, RUPD’s clearance rate was 19.8%
Miller said that part of the reason that the number of rape cases increased in 2015, from 16 to 26, was an expanded definition of the crime that was now in use.
There is some good news.
Violent crimes increased across the board, with the exception of murder, but nonviolent crimes are going in the opposite direction.
The total number of burglaries reported is down 40% in 2015 versus two years ago, while larceny reports decreased 15% over the same period, and motor vehicle thefts fell by 23%.
The numbers have gone down in a big way over the past 25 years, with vehicle thefts declining more than 87%, larcenies down by 61%, and burglaries down 60% over the past quarter-century.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.