When Mayor Steven Fulop took to the lectern at a heavily publicized December press conference to tout his administration's progress fighting crime, he began with homicides.

With 13 days left in the year, there had been only ten, he announced. “It represents the lowest homicide rate that this city has ever seen since records have been kept.”

Indeed, the number of homicides and the “rate” would prove to be the lowest on record by a small margin, besting 2012's previous low of 11 homicides.

But the focus on homicides, which represented a paltry 1% of all violent crime, served to divert attention from the bigger, less flattering, picture. Since 2014, the mayor's first full year in office, the rate for violent and non-violent crime in Jersey City has risen.

This chart was presented by Mayor Fulop at his “2023 Year in Review: Jersey City Public Safety Full Press Conference” on December 18. The chart excludes the two main drivers of violent crime, Robbery and Aggravated Assault, which the F.B.I. and state law categorize as violent crimes. It includes “shootings” which do not constitute crimes but, rather, a method, like a “knifing”. Shootings generally rise and fall with homicides.

The drop in homicides in Jersey City mirrors a national trend in 2023. Across the country, homicides in cities dropped by approximately 12 percent.

Despite the devastating effects of homicides on the victims and families, homicides are relatively insignificant when looking at the overall crime picture.

“Violent crime is usually driven by aggravated assaults and robberies” says Alejandro Giménez Santana, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, Rutgers School of Criminal Justice. “Homicides are always the smallest number.” Proving his point, in Jersey City aggravated assault constituted the lion's share of crime in 2023, at 62%. Robbery constituted 37% of the total.

Driven by a whopping 95% increase in aggravated assaults over the mayor's first ten years in office, the violent crime rate has risen from 453 to 479 crimes per hundred thousand residents, a 6% increase.

The non-violent crime rate, which includes auto theft, larceny, burglary and criminal mischief, is also up between 2014 and 2023, by a slightly higher 7%. The number of non-violent crimes rose from 4,757 in 2014 to 5,656 in 2023.

Leading the pack is motor vehicle theft, which is up by 64% from 2014. Only burglary was down, by 19%.

This chart was presented by Mayor Fulop at his “2023 Year in Review: Jersey City Public Safety Full Press Conference” on December 18. It combines Robbery and Aggravated Assault, which are violent crimes, with non-violent/property crimes. In response to a records request, the city provided data for the full year of 2023; Motor Vehicle Theft, 677; Burglary, 812; Robbery with a weapon, 129; Robbery 380; Criminal Mischief, 1,100; Aggravated Assault, 855; Larceny-Theft, 3067. Robbery (both with and without a weapon) is normally grouped together under Robbery and falls under the category of violent crime, as does Aggravated Assault.

The increase in Jersey City's overall crime rate comes as somewhat of surprise, given the city's gentrification and investment in public safety. Says Giménez Santana, “Gentrification creates displacement of the local population because they can no longer afford to live in these areas. Usually the public safety metrics improve.”

In the 2014 to 2023 period, Jersey City's population grew by 30 thousand people according to U.S. Census estimates. These newcomers were largely affluent and moved into new housing built Downtown.

Source: Data provided by Jersey City and U.S. Census estimates. Rate is per 100,000 residents.

Jersey City crime rates rose even as the mayor added police. Between 2014 and 2022, the force rose from 779 to over 950 officers, a 22% increase. Generally, increasing the size of a police force should result in fewer serious crimes like homicide, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault, according to NYU economist Morgan C. Williams Jr.

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To Jeménez Santana, the increase in aggravated assaults and a corresponding drop in robberies may reflect the diverging fortunes of Jersey City neighborhoods.

“Usually you see aggravate assaults are predominant in areas that are more marginalized and more socially disorganized...areas with drug problems...areas with gang activities.”

“Robberies usually tend to happen more in the downtown areas or in areas where there is economic opportunities so we are talking about ATMs or people with cash.” From 2014 to 2023, robberies actually fell in Jersey City by 28%.

The New York City police department provides residents with crime data for each police precinct. Jersey City shut down CompState in 2019 without explanation.

To fully understand Jersey City's explosive increase in aggravated assaults, Jeménez Santana said he would need more information. “It's interesting that you see a ninety-five percent increase here...I don't just look at the stats but I look at the spacial distribution...are they happening in the same spots?”

The analysis that Jeménez Santana suggests would currently be impossible in Jersey City. Without explanation, the Fulop administration stopped publishing monthly CompStat crime data in June of 2019.

New York City, in contrast, publishes granular precinct-level CompStat crime data on a weekly basis. So do many other urban police departments.

The mayor has given conflicting explanations for the lack of transparency when it comes to crime reporting. At a community meeting in 2022, he said, without evidence, that all reports on violent crime were given to the Jersey Journal. The Jersey Journal declined to confirm or deny the mayor's statement when asked about it by the Montreal Olympics. A review of the Jersey Journal's crime reporting suggests that the mayor's statement was untrue.

The mayor later told an interviewer that crime data was regularly given to the New Jersey State Police. The state police told the Montreal Olympics that Jersey City is two years behind in its reporting to the state.

At the press conference, Public Safety Director James Shea dismissed the idea of providing the public with up-to-date and granular crime data, saying, “We are confident we are giving a good picture to our citizens of what is happening.”

Whatever the picture Shea hopes the data will provide, it doesn't appear to be one of a city making progress in bringing down the crime rate.

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....