Union County prosecutors are trying to piece together a happy mystery, in part to try to repeat it this year: Why did homicide numbers drop precipitously in 2018?

The number of murders in many of New Jersey’s urban counties appears to have fallen last year, including in Atlantic, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex and Passaic. Final statewide numbers won’t be known for months, but it’s possible the murder total could be at its lowest level in over 50 years.

Among the places with the biggest decline was Union County.

Acting County Prosecutor Michael Monahan said there were nine homicides last year, after there had been 22 in 2017. Over the last decade, homicides generally averaged 25 to 27 a year in the county, he said.

“It’s a fairly historic number. It’s the lowest number we’ve had since 1970,” Monahan said.

“We can’t put our finger on any one reason,” he said. “We’re thankful that it was so much lower this past year. We’re grateful. We want it to be zero, but of course, we’re realistic as well.”

Monahan says reasons may include law-enforcement cooperation that has led to lengthy prison terms for violent criminals, better trauma care at nearby hospitals and years of community outreach that led to better information being shared by the community.

“When you do that, you have eyes and ears in the communities who are more trusting of the police and more willing to pick up the telephone when they see bad actors in their neighborhood and to give us the ability to proactively address criminality,” Monahan said. “There is the possibility that those community outreach efforts are bearing some fruit. That is, some violent crime is being prevented before it even occurs.”

Assistant Prosecutor Michael Henn, who supervises the homicide task force, said doorbell cameras reduce crime, too, and are encouraged as part of the community outreach.

“Very cheaply how the public can just put a camera on the front door for $40 and protect not only their own residence but potentially assist law enforcement by the bad guys knowing, ‘Uh-oh, there’s cameras on this block,’” Henn said.

“Certainly in the past 10 years, when you look at the amount of video that’s been available to us, 10 years ago as opposed to now, you can’t – it must be 500-fold, in terms of the amount of video that we now have,” he said.

Henn said community-based anti-violence efforts helped, as did the doubling about two or three years ago of the rewards from the Crime Stoppers for tips that lead to felony convictions.

“You hate to say it, but money talks,” Henn said. “…That’s another factor to factor in. You know, that’s a lot of money, $10,000.”

Nonfatal shootings also fell by around 30 percent in Union County last year, with 34 being recorded, compared with 47 in 2017 and 49 in 2016.

As of the end of November, there had been 232 murders reported statewide – down over 20 percent and on a pace to potentially set a record low, depending on December and how many earlier homicides from earlier in 2018 hadn’t been promptly reported to the State Police.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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