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Cutbacks and Cops

Posted: 08/03/2012 9:00 am

By now, the script is painfully familiar: facing budget shortfalls, municipal governments find themselves under-equipped to deal with the multiple crises they face. Politicians exhort the need to make "tough choices." And communities are struck with a double blow, losing not only services, but jobs -- which in turn further reduces local revenues, leading to more deficits, leading to more cuts, and the cycle starts again.

This week in Huffington, John Rudolf profiles one community for which that vicious cycle is more vicious than most. "Newark's cops do not work at an ordinary job, like the rest of us," he writes. The dangers they routinely face, coupled with years of catastrophic budget cuts, make the men and women of the Newark PD more like "soldiers on the front lines of a ceaseless, low-intensity war."

With compelling interviews with Newark's finest and a steady barrage of devastating statistics, John paints a picture of a community in crisis. Newark has about as many cops on the streets today as it did in the 1970s. Well over a third of children live in poverty, and the city's heavily minority population suffers disproportionately from the effects of the jobs crisis.

A wave of police layoffs in 2010 coincided with sweeping state cuts in education. To look closely at the situation in Newark is to come face to face with a tragic truth: as a result of the ongoing financial crisis, we are not investing nearly enough in our children's safety or in their future opportunities. As Brendan O'Flaherty, a Columbia economics professor says, "Why would you decide that the first thing you want to cut is police and education? You're eating the young."

And while Newark's problems first and foremost affect those who live and work in the city, John Rudolf puts the story in a national context. There's nothing left-wing or right-wing about wanting to ensure that our children grow up without the threat of gang violence and drive-by shootings, yet there is complete partisan gridlock around the quest for solutions that involve government action.

Mayor Cory Booker, for his part, has sought to discredit such a dismissive approach to government. The idea "that government is destructive, that government hurts communities and hurts people... that's patently not true," he says. And by exploring the mayor's complicated relationship with Newark's police union, John provides an insightful glimpse into the workings of city government -- a mix of individuals and groups navigating an imperfect and ever-shifting landscape of competing interests and limited budgets.

Most memorably, John Rudolf introduces us to the police officers who patrol the 7.5 square miles of burned-out buildings and empty lots where 80 percent of Newark's shootings take place. There's Samuel DeMaio, who over three decades rose from beat cop to police director, taking over just as the city suffered its most deadly summer in 20 years. And Al Burroughs, the police lieutenant who sums up the department's burden as if speaking not only for the Newark PD, but for the whole country: "The bottom line is that we've got to do more with less."

This piece appears in our new weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store.

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