Is crime a public health issue? Newark is now treating it as one

City’s Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery launches new strategic initiative

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka used National Crime Victims’ Rights Week to unveil a new strategic plan for the city’s Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery — a new initiative dedicated to confronting and removing barriers to justice for crime victims.

Baraka said the OVPTR will use a holistic and comprehensive approach to crime and violence — treating it as a public health issue, one that views people as individuals and not as products of their environment.

Mayor Ras Baraka. (File photo)

Baraka announced the plan an event that included OVPTR Director Lakeesha Eure, Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Newark), Brick City Peace Collective Executive Director Kyleesha Wingfield-Hill and Newark resident Sonia Rogers (who lost three sons to gun violence).

OVPTR was created by Baraka in June 2020. The mayor said he hopes the OVPTR’s new initiative can be a national model for pioneering deliberative solutions and policies to support the victims of crime and violence, to assist their recovery and prevent such incidents from occurring.

The groundbreaking plan has four strategic goals, which are as follows:

  • Supporting communities to have an active role in creating public safety;
  • Mobilizing community and law enforcement to focus on hot spots;
  • Shifting the culture to think about trust, healing and resilience;
  • Investing in the capacity of people and resources to prevent violence.

“Newark’s decrease in overall crime is directly related to the innovative efforts of our Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery, and the entire collaborative ecosystem we have created, because it views crime and violence as a public health issue and addresses it holistically,” he said. “Because the roots of crime are complex, the solution demands a comprehensive, multipronged approach to reduce the societal imbalances and stressors that give rise to aggression and violence.

“We know that arrests and incarcerations do not make our streets safer over time. This initiative seeks to transform the lives of Newark’s residents through common-sense, compassionate measures that prevent crime, reduce violence and foster healing — one life, one family, one street at a time. I commend everyone who worked on this plan and has committed themselves or their organization to making our vision a reality.”

City officials said the plan requires treatment for the whole person: biological and personal history factors, such as age, history of drug abuse, depression, personal beliefs and child maltreatment. It also includes such subjects as relationships with family and friends; community settings and neighborhood dynamics; and societal and cultural norms that drive attitudes.

The approach focuses on collaborations between municipal, nonprofit and private organizations, stressing a variety of measures to reduce violence and crime. They include such programs as workforce development, social services, literacy programs, vacant lot cleanups and demolishing vacant buildings that stand as eyesores and dangers. The city has been making data-driven deployments of resources into “hot spots” to address violence and crime in this comprehensive manner.

Wednesday’s event comes on the heels of the city’s deadline for request for proposals for community-based violence intervention and preventions programs. $17 million is earmarked for organizations chosen for the merit of their submission and its projected impact on Newark’s neighborhoods. This investment back into the community will increase the capacity of resources and people dedicated to residents’ safety, healing, harmony and wholeness.

Eure said the OVPTR should be viewed as the community-based arm of public safety.

Want to see the plan?

The Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery plan can be viewed on the city’s website here.

“You can’t have public safety without the public,” she said. “When I say, ‘community-based,’ I am talking about a groundswell movement that has been created and cemented through the mayor’s direction into an initiative that approaches crime, violence and trauma as it would be treated in a healthy family — with holistic compassion and support. We are addressing violence as a public health issue and promoting healing for everyone impacted directly or indirectly.

“The strategic plan we announced today is the culmination of years of intensive research into the facts and reality of crime and violence specific to Newark. It incorporates comprehensive input from grassroots neighborhood and community service organizations, residents as well as professionals in physical and mental health fields, social work, abandoned property revitalization, public safety and law enforcement, job creation and education.”

The plan includes collaborations with preexisting programs like My Brother’s Keeper Newark, the Newark Community Street Team, the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, the Newark Opportunity Youth Network, the HUBB, Newark Public Safety Collaborative, Equal Justice USA and many more partners who hold substantial knowledge about communities and have been paving the way on preventive work for many years.

Newark officials said the public health approach also invites municipal departments and community members to see violent behavior as an infectious disease and not as a law enforcement issue.