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September 17, 2010 > Meet the Cop

Meet the Cop

By Meenu Gupta

Photo Courtesy of Newark Police Department

Chief James Leal began his career as a Deputy with the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, followed by service with the San Mateo Sheriff's Department. Chief Leal was then hired by the City of Newark as a Police Officer in 1988. Over the next 20 years, Chief Leal moved up the ranks, working in almost every assignment in the police department. Appointed as Police Chief in 2008, he is the eighth Police Chief since the City's incorporation in 1955.

TCV: Has the declining economy affected the crime rate in the city? What are the challenges facing the Newark Police Department?

Chief Leal: We have seen an increase in the crime rate, which I suspect is tied to the declining economy and some of the desperation we are seeing out there from people who are not working and hurting financially. In particular, robberies and violent crimes have increased 5-10%.

Obviously the biggest impact on our department has been the loss of staffing due to budget cuts. As a result, there are now less visible patrols and officers do not have as many opportunities for proactive policing. We have had to prioritize calls for service, so there will be times when we cannot respond as quickly as we would like. Many lower priority calls simply cannot be handled in the same manner given our current level of staffing, so residents will be referred to our online reporting system. Our biggest challenge will be to balance public safety and customer service in light of these circumstances.

TCV: How can the residents help?

Chief Leal: The best way for the residents to help us is to be aware of what is going on in your neighborhood and by reporting suspicious activity. Another way is to protect yourself from being a victim. Do not leave expensive items in your vehicles, especially in plain view; don't leave your car in the driveway with the engine running; and lock exterior doors, windows, and gates. Most criminals are opportunists and they will take advantage of easy targets.

TCV: What do you want residents to know about the Police Department?

Chief Leal: We are in a dire economic situation and it has severely limited our ability to provide the same level of service that the community is accustomed to. Our population has increased by 5,000 residents in the last 20 years, but due to budget cuts, we have fewer officers now than we had in 1990. I would like our citizens to know that the officers in this department are still very engaged in the community, they care deeply about what happens here, and will continue to be proactive and responsive during these difficult times. The mission of the Newark Police Department is "To be creative, innovative, and proactive while providing exceptional police services in partnership with our community." Although our methods must be flexible, our ultimate goal remains the same.

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