Newark- A class of 51 police officer recruits were officially welcomed during a ceremony in Newark this morning — the first in a series of additions to the undermanned department promised by Mayor Ras Baraka.
The group, made up of 40 men and 11 women, will now embark on six months of training in hopes of officially joining the force later this year. If successful, they would boost the city’s total number of officers to 1,001.
Baraka took to a podium at Abysinnian Baptist Church to praise the recruits as being crucial to the fulfillment of his promise to put more police on the city’s beleaguered streets.
“You are those resources. You are those people we’ve been waiting for,” he said.
The class is the first of three planned for this year to round out Baraka’s plans to add 150 new officers to the department’s roster.
Last April, another class of 51 recruits entered the academy — the police department’s first new additions since 160 officers were laid off in 2010. Of the class, 35 successfully completed their training, and officially joined the force in September.
Baraka was joined by Police Director Eugene Venable, Police Chief Anthony Campos, members of the city’s Municipal Council and other dignitaries at the ceremony, where recruits and their family members crowded the church pews.
Venable said Newark was in “dire need” of as many as 300 more officers, and that the new class would be counted on to both fight crime and help the process of repairing the relationship between the department and citizens.
“We’re transforming from a police department who has a disconnect with our youth, who has a disconnect with its citizens,” he said. “These are the people we have specifically hired to…go through this transformation in our city.”
Should they complete their training at the academy, the new recruits will join the ranks of a department in the midst of a wide-ranging transition.
In July, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report alleging widespread abuse of citizens’ civil rights and disproportionate targeting of African-Americans. The agency is currently in the process of choosing a monitor that will oversee a range of reforms to its disciplinary system, training and other procedures — making Newark the 13th city in the country to operate under such a system.
The new recruits were advised that the federal government is far from the only entity that will be watching them closely, saying police are under also unprecedented levels of scrutiny from the public.
The mayor referenced escalating anti-police sentiment in Baltimore, where scores of citizens have engaged in often-violent protests after a 25-year-old man died from injuries he sustained after an encounter with officers earlier this month.
“It’s not a story about Maryland, it’s a story about this country. And we live here. And so you have a very difficult, difficult job in a critical, critical time,” he said.
“The work you are doing is good work, it’s not evil work…Wherever you step people should say ‘Good has arrived’ because they see that badge on your shoulder.”