Six recognized by attorney general for making Newark streets safer

NEWARK, NJ — Attorney Gen. William P. Barr recognized 295 department employees for their distinguished public service on Oct. 23 at the 67th annual Attorney General’s Awards Ceremony; 62 other individuals outside of the department were also honored for their work. Six members of state and local law enforcement were recognized in New Jersey. This annual ceremony recognizes employees and other individuals who have demonstrated exceptional achievements, leadership and service to the Department of Justice and the American people.

“Our greatest strength in our fight for justice is our people — the thousands of men and women who have dedicated their careers, often at great personal sacrifice, to working for justice in America,” Barr said. “As we reflect on the contributions of each of the 357 individuals we honor today, we should hold them up as examples of excellence that continue to inspire our own commitment, and also as reminders of the professionalism and the qualities exhibited throughout the department.”

“I am extremely proud that our law enforcement partners have been chosen for these prestigious awards,” U.S. Attorney Greg Carpenito said. “The Violent Crime Initiative has proven to be effective in making the streets of Newark safer for all citizens, and it works because of the tremendous cooperation among city, state, county and federal law enforcement.”

In the District of New Jersey, six members of state and local law enforcement won the William French Smith Award for Outstanding Contributions to Cooperative Law Enforcement — the only such award presented by the attorney general this year. This award recognizes state and local law enforcement officials who have made significant contributions to cooperative law enforcement endeavors. New Jersey’s recipients were recognized for their contributions to the Violent Crime Initiative to improve public safety in Newark.

The recipients are: Sgt. Christopher J. Bozios Jr., Bureau of Narcotics, Essex County Sheriff’s Office; Detective Sgt. John M. Marcelli, Professional Standards Bureau, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office; Lt. R. Craig Costello, Regional Operations Intelligence Center, N.J. State Police; Sgt. Matthew J. Testa, Special Operations Group, N.J. Parole Board; and Capt. William Mehalaris and Anthony S. Venancio, both of the Major Crimes Division, Newark Department of Public Safety, Police Division.

The VCI was formed in August 2017 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and the city of Newark’s Department of Public Safety as a communitywide cooperative effort aimed at combating violent crime in and around Newark. As part of this partnership, federal, state, county and city agencies collaborate, share intelligence and pool resources to prosecute violent offenders who endanger the safety of the community. VCI has not only improved the community, but has strengthened relationships among federal, state, county and city agencies as a result of the trust developed among the participants.

The VCI’s approach has had a powerful impact on improving the community, which is experiencing a sharp decrease in overall crime, in general, and violent crime, in particular. Due in part to the VCI’s concentrated efforts, overall crime in Newark has been reduced 15 percent over the past year. The VCI, and other measures, have had an even greater impact on violent crime, with a 30-percent reduction in shooting victims between 2017 and 2018. In 2019, the number of shooting victims and shooting incidents have again declined significantly, with a reduction of 39 percent compared to the same period in 2018. Newark officials said there have been 30 fewer murders, 150 fewer shootings and 500 fewer robberies. Overall, according to the Newark Department of Public Safety, there have been 800 fewer victims of violent crime since the VCI’s creation.

Also on Oct. 23, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka issued an official proclamation honoring Assistant United States Attorneys John Gay, Chief of the Criminal Division, and Mary Toscano, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division, for their contributions and founding and leading the VCI to reduce violent crime. Baraka’s proclamations stated that the VCI “has had a dramatic impact on crime in Newark,” and credited Gay and Toscano for their work “to make Newark a safer, more empowered, and more equitable city.”

“We commend the hard work of the men and women of the Police Division,” Newark Department of Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said. “We also thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their dedication and commitment in successfully prosecuting these cases, which has definitely made Newark a safer place. The beneficiaries are the members of the public, who have seen 150 fewer people shot and 30 fewer funerals.”

“Information sharing and collaboration are the keys to reducing violent crime in our state and the Newark Violent Crime Initiative stands out as a model of what we can accomplish when we work together,” New Jersey Attorney Gen. Gurbir Grewal said. “I am proud to work with United States Attorney Craig Carpenito, Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose, Newark Police Chief Darnell Henry and Col. Patrick Callahan of the NJ State Police on this groundbreaking effort to improve public safety. I congratulate the dedicated men and women who are on the front lines of this initiative and are being recognized today. With this award, I am certain that the Newark Violent Crime Initiative will become a national model for law enforcement agencies across the country to follow.”

“The New Jersey State Police is proud to be a part of a cooperative partnership of dedicated individuals determined to improve the quality of life for the residents of the city of Newark by targeting recidivist, violent offenders and removing them from the streets,” Callahan said. “The members of the Newark Violent Crime Initiative bring great credit and distinction to their agencies for their outstanding efforts, and although they are law enforcement professionals who perform their duties seeking no praise, it is nevertheless a great honor for them to be recognized at the 67th annual Attorney General’s Award Ceremony.”