The newly revived Newark Police Foundation kicked off its Cops and Kids Community Policing Contest on June 17 with a barbecue for about 100 students featuring the Newark Police mounted and motorcycle units and a fly-in by a police helicopter.
The NPF, chaired by former New Jersey Attorney General and current Lowenstein Sandler partner Chris Porrino, is sponsoring the contest to improve police-community relations. Under the program, the foundation will provide grants to Newark’s seven police precincts to develop and implement a community policing program that prioritizes youth engagement. “Later in the year after the initiatives have been implemented, we will, along with a number of our community partners judge those initiatives and we’ll pick the best one,” Porrino said in an interview. “The best one will then be funded city-wide.”
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Rachael Honig joined Porrino at the launch event, held at the Belmont Runyon School in the city.
Porrino said the foundation and the police department’s community service officers developed the application materials for the contest and will hold a workshop to help the precincts develop their programs. “Of course, it’s not really about the contest,” he explained. “It’s about giving the precincts and the police officers who work there some organization around getting this important work done. The time to build relationships in communities is not when you have a crisis. It’s not when you have a violent police encounter or a controversial shooting. It’s too late then. The relationships have to be built way in advance and our point in jumpstarting this effort and holding this event is the place to start is really with kids.”
The foundation is also seeking support from the business community for its work. “It’s terrific to invest in dance and all the great things that I very often see businesses investing in Newark – and it should continue,” Porrino said. “What I’m asking is that business leaders also consider public safety, because when you think about and you worry about — as we did, and as I did when I was Attorney General — the possibility for civil unrest in many of our communities in our cities, the trigger very often … as we’ve seen over the past year is a violent police encounter.”
He noted that while the nationwide protests that followed George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis last year turned violent in many cities, the demonstrations in New Jersey were peaceful. “That success in having peaceful protests after a horrific event like the murder of George Floyd didn’t happen by accident,” he said. “The reason why, in my judgment, the protests were peaceful was because there was already a foundation of trust and engagement on the part of law enforcement in Newark and the community and also terrific engagement on the part of the mayor’s office.”
The Newark Police Foundation was founded in 2006, but had been dormant in recent years. Porrino decided to bring it back after leaving government. “When I came out of my public service as attorney general I thought about different things that I might be able to do to help different communities and give back a bit,” he said. “This foundation was something I really thought I could help make a difference with. So we got a group of willing board members together, we cleaned up the paperwork, went out and bought some insurance and went on to brainstorm and came up with the idea [for the contest].”