The city's first female police chief plans to be an accessible, visible presence in the community, and will expect other officers on the force to do the same.
“Those who don't know me, will know me,” Sheilah Coley said Aug. 9 during her first public remarks as chief. “I want to promise all of you, moving forward, that I will be in the community. I will listen to the community. Together, we will come up with resolutions to move this city forward.”
Newark Mayor Cory Booker called Coley “a trailblazer,” as not only the first female to head the department, but the first African-American female.
Coley joined the Newark Police Department in 1989 and worked as a patrol officer, narcotics detective and in internal affairs before being promoted to captain in 2004. She was approved as police chief by the Newark City Council last week after it voted to re-establish the position after three years without a chief.
Coley's boss, Police Director Samuel DeMaio, said that reducing crime and making residents feel safe again are the main priorities during one of the most violent summers in recent memory. DeMaio was confirmed last week after being appointed to replace Garry McCarthy, who resigned to become police director in Chicago.
Coley and DeMaio, both veterans of the police force with deep roots in Newark, are stepping in at a difficult time for the department. More than 150 officers were laid off last year, and a recent surge in violent crime has nearly erased substantial earlier gains during Booker's first term.
“I don't want to downplay the agony of what we've endured this summer,” Booker said. “I do not want to downplay the challenges we have still ahead of us in dealing with the crime problems in the city of Newark and I do not want to downplay the real pain and unimaginable difficulties faced by the victims of crime.”
The mayor said he was hopeful that crime would start to decrease under DeMaio and Coley.
There have been 56 homicides so far this year, according to the Essex County Prosecutor's office, including the high-profile shooting deaths of an off-duty Newark police officer, an Essex County Corrections officer and a schoolteacher from Virginia.
Booker said overall crime in the city is up 14 percent this year, although he credited DeMaio, who he described as a coalition builder, for decreases in that percentage since taking over.
It's a disturbing upward trend for the city of 280,000, which topped 100 murders in 2006 but saw that number fall by more than 30 percent by the end of 2008. The numbers started climbing again, and Booker said Tuesday this July was one of the worst on record.
“I have not seen a time in my five years as mayor like this summer,” Booker said, adding that several agencies at the state, county and federal level were working together to target what they believe is a small group of people largely responsible for much of the recent violence.