Beset by violent crime in his home city, including a homicide this morning in the Ironbound, an emotional Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-29) identified aid cuts to Newark and the resulting layoffs of police officers as part of the immediate reason for a spate of killings and shootings.
“Thirteen shot in one day in the state’s largest city, including one 15-year-old, dead,” Coutinho said, prior to learning of this morning’s killing. “Even for someone who was born, raised and lived his whole life in the inner city, the statement just doesn’t seem real. How is this possible? How can this be allowed to happen? The truly sad part is that this insane violence was predictable, as I wrote about in January following the layoff of 167 police officers in Newark.”
Seeking help for the city, Coutinho communicated this morning with Acting Governor Kim Guadagno.
“This is not just the governor, to be clear,” the assemblyman said. “I am putting this at the collective doorstep of anyone who has a responsibility to the citizens of the city of Newark.”
Since the police layoffs, violent crime in Newark doubled.
“This wasn’t just the governor’s cuts,” said Coutinho. “We have a $10 billion deficit, and we can’t wallk away from cutting it. However, we need to adjust when necessary. I don’t regret voting for the 2011 budget and I don’t regret voting for pension and benefit reform. What frustrates me is at various levels of government, people don’t take the effects of financial crisis as seriously as they should. I understand cutting municipal aid, but you have to monitor the consequences of that because right now, people are feeling like prisoners in their own homes.”
The urban lawmaker acknowledged that while the longterm solutions include education and economic opportunity, the only effective answer to the city’s continuing violence is having adequate police presence, which now does not exist.
“At this point in time, given mass layoffs in public safety, police forces aren’t doing any preventative work, only responding to calls for help,” Coutinho said. “Everyone must do their part to bring all laid off police officers back.”
The Ironbound assemblyman earlier this year wrote a column for PolitickerNJ.com in which he warned of the continued ramifications of Gov. Chris Christie’s cuts in local aid – nearly $1 billion to schools and half of a billion to municipalities.
“Since Newark implemented its police layoffs on November 30, we have been beseiged with an alarming number of homicides – 14 and counting at press time,” Coutinho wrote on Jan. 7th. “These are the realities we are looking at as the effects of the Governor’s record budget cuts trickle down to the local level. ‘Fiscal watchdog’ is a nice buzz phrase that plays out well on cable outlets and the national stage during this period of economic instability. But long after the recession subsides and Chris Christie has moved on to other pastures, cities like Newark will still be struggling to claw their way back to square one.”