UNION COUNTY – Crime in Union County climbed 10 percent last year, according to State Police statistics released last week by the Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow.
Elizabeth, which is home to nearly a quarter of the county’s population, accounted for more than 40 percent of the overall crime last year. Thirteen of the 19 homicides in Union County happened in Elizabeth, and more than half of the 1,233 robberies.
Romankow blamed the recession, noting that similar trends occurred nationwide and on the state level during the previous five recession periods.
The prosecutor also pointed to the 33 percent rise in violent crime in Elizabeth last year, arguing that the mayor and police leaders are ignoring the growing problem of gangs in the city.
“Elizabeth police are working as hard as they can,” Romankow said, but he believes crime would not be as high “if there was a more aggressive policy of gang intelligence.”
Police and city officials insist there is no gang problem and that identifying gang members—who they say may or may not be active—needlessly frightens the public.
“We go after the criminals,” said Elizabeth Police Chief Ronald Simon. “If they’re selling drugs, if they’re committing acts of violence, that is how they come in contact with us. That’s how we react to them, that is how we arrest them. If they happen to be identified as gang members so be it.”
Overall, the county reported a 13.3 percent surge in violent crime from 2007 to 2008, and a 12.5 percent rise in nonviolent crime like burglary and larceny.
From 2007 to 2008, homicides in Union County rose, from 16 to 19; as did rape, from 45 to 62; robbery, from 1,075 to 1,233; burglary, from 1,891 to 2,404; and larceny, from 7,941 to 8,903. Motor vehicle theft actually dropped slightly, from 1,962 to 1,957.
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