With 31 murders, 2005 was the deadliest year in Trenton’s history, up from 18 in 2004.
The rising murder rate appears to be part of a larger trend in cities in New Jersey. Out of New Jersey’s “big six” urban cities – Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Trenton and Camden – only Camden saw a decrease in 2005.
Of the 31 murders in Trenton in 2005, police believe that 22 were gang-related, and a count by The Times of Trenton indicates that 23 of the 31 were gunshot slayings committed in public.
According to the New Jersey State Police Uniform Crime Report, Trenton has not had 20-plus killings since 1990, when it had 21. The highest previously recorded number in Trenton was 27 in 1979.
Police don’t know the exact reason for the increase, but they attribute the spike to a relatively small population and escalating rivalries between gangs.
“We have a pretty good idea of who the street gangs are, what their rivalries are,” Trenton Police Department spokesman Peter Page said. The department keeps a violent offender database, which currently holds fewer than 50 names.
“The perpetrators and victims in these crimes are demographically very similar,” Page said.
The victims and perpetrators, he said, are disproportionately young black males and people with criminal histories. “What we’re seeing is violent crime highly concentrated within the same group of people,” Page said.
John Krimmel, associate professor of criminology, said that gang violence typically takes place for a few reasons.
“If gang members are killing each other, it’s over turf issues, over manhood, over saving face,” Krimmel said.
Krimmel also said that when cities experience a rise in homicides, it can often be attributed to a shift in demographics and elevating disputes that have no other outlet.
“With that, you have the possibility of emerging gang conflict, and the resolution of that conflict is death,” he said.
Murder rates have risen nationally as well. According to FBI reports, murders nationwide rose by 2.1 percent in the first six months of 2005, and 3.2 percent in cities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999 (Trenton has a population of 85,000). Other crimes, such as rape and arson, have shown a significant decrease nationally.
Philadelphia and Baltimore also experienced a surge in the murder rate in 2005, while the murder rate in New York City is at its lowest since 1963.