Following the development of successful alternative policing programs in areas like Denver, more and more cities are looking for ways to unify their communities with wellness and justice-focused public safety strategies. Another city leading by example is Newark, New Jersey, where the Community Street Team has been working for seven years to form a more cohesive relationship between police and the community.
Program organizer Aqeela Sherrills notes that many residents in the city, especially people of color, are not comfortable talking with police about public safety, so that’s where the Community Street Team comes in. They host mediation sessions with victims and perpetrators of crime to find common ground and resolve tensions.
The team has 50 members, and in addition to conflict mediation, they also focus heavily on addressing trauma. Many victims of crime and their family members have limited resources for addressing the trauma and fallout associated with crime, but the Community Street Team helps connect these residents with resources. Their most recent project is the creation of a Trauma Recovery Center.
Located in the South Ward, an area of the city where violence and crime are often concentrated, the center hopes to serve as a resource for those uncomfortable with seeking support from traditional government services. “Black folks and brown folks have a lot of traumatic experiences in terms of government and hospitals,” Sherrills told CBS. “So we wanted to get a place that was a home that would be welcoming for folks.”
The Community Street Team also partners with the Newark Police Department to foster a better relationship between police and the community. They’ve helped the department adopt scenario-based de-escalation training which reduces negative interactions between residents and the police. The city has also reallocated five percent of the police budget to the city’s Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery which funds restorative community-based organizations, like the Streets Team.
The best part is that the program is working. 2019 and 2020 saw the lowest homicide rates in Newark in 60 years. “This is what law enforcement and community working together looks like,” said Sherrills. If you want to learn more about the Community Streets Team and Aqeela Sherrills, check out our extended View interview with him here.