Mayor Cory A. Booker bounded through the back door of a police station in the early-morning hours of Christmas Eve. He did not come bearing holiday gifts.
A desk sergeant stage-shouted “Good evening, Mayor,” and the half dozen officers who were preparing gear for the lobster shift looked up with a start. After a round of greetings, Mr. Booker got down to work. He grilled commanding officers about a string of car thefts and armed robberies, asked why drug dealers were brazenly hawking their wares at a nearby housing project, and then flipped through a ream of log sheets to see which patrol units were lagging in arrests and summonses.
As the officers lined up for roll call, Mr. Booker, dressed in a gray hooded sweat shirt, stood behind the front desk and delivered a pep talk subtly laced with admonition. He praised them for their hard work and bravery — and gave thanks for an 11 percent drop in overall crime — but suggested that some officers were less than industrious. “We are on the foothills of greatness, but there is still a big mountain to climb,” he said, his voice filled with urgency. “We need to show the country what Newark can do. When you are between service calls, I need you to challenge the bad guys and show them that they don’t own the streets. Be aggressive, be hungry, make me proud.”
It is a speech that Mr. Booker has been giving often in recent weeks as he roams the city in the middle of the night to prod a department that, depending on the point of view, is either overworked and understaffed, or hamstrung by apathy and complacency. With 2007 nearing its end, Mr. Booker has both eyes on the crime statistics that he knows will be used to judge him and his 17-month-old mayoralty.
A glimpse at Mayor Booker’s intense focus on rapidly reducing crime — particularly the murder rate — in the near term. Surprise visits to police precincts at odd hours, challenging complacency, closely tracking crime stats, and bringing in new officers are among the tools Booker and McCarthy are employing to deliver results. Undoing the decades of cronyism and favoritism appear to be the biggest challenges in the NPD, as the old-world mentality continues to linger.