N.J. murder rate jumped in 2015, but violent crime decreased marginally

 New Jersey’s violent crime rate decreased slightly from 2014 to 2015 even though murders increased over the same period. In this Oct. 13, 2015, file photo, officers from the Camden County prosecutor's office investigate a homicide in Haddon Township. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

New Jersey’s violent crime rate decreased slightly from 2014 to 2015 even though murders increased over the same period. In this Oct. 13, 2015, file photo, officers from the Camden County prosecutor's office investigate a homicide in Haddon Township. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

New Jersey’s violent crime rate decreased slightly from 2014 to 2015, even though the number of murders increased over the same period, according to the Uniform Crime Report released by the state attorney general’s office last week.

Statewide violent crime — murder, robbery, and aggravated assault — dropped by 1 percent in 2015.

But the dip is largely due to a 7-percent reduction in robberies.

The rates of murder and aggravated assault both increased that year, up 4 percent and 2 percent respectively from 2014.

“While the latest crime data shows a decrease in the overall crime rate in New Jersey, there is still considerable room for improvement,” said Attorney General Christopher Porrino in a statement. “Reducing the number of shootings and murders in our urban areas continues to be a priority for the attorney general’s office and the New Jersey State Police.”

Experts cautioned against putting too much weight in statistical changes from one year to the next, but the Garden State’s drop in violent crime dovetails with national trends.

“It has been [dropping] ever since the early- to mid-1990s,” said Christine Tartaro, a professor of criminal justice at Stockton University.

Tartaro said reductions in violent crime could be attributed to new strategies in drug enforcement, economic issues, and even criminal justice reform. “It could be argued that some policing tactics contributed [to a drop in crime], but that’s a very controversial issue and would take a lot more explanation,” she said.

State officials also noted that a spike in rapes in 2015 occurred due to an expanded definition of the crime that took effect that year. Rape victims and offenders in New Jersey can now be male or female, and the new definition includes the inability of the victim to consent because of an incapacity such as the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Burglaries dropped by 12 percent and thefts declined by 5 percent.

Essex County, where Newark is located, had the highest number of violent crimes.

From the report:

Authorities made 27,186 arrests in Camden County in 2015, the highest number of any county in the state
Only two counties saw an overall uptick in crime: Cumberland County’s crime rate jumped by 6 percent, and Mercer County’s crime rate increased by less than a 10th of a percent
Officials in Salem County had the highest “clearance rate” of any county, closing the file on 43.6 percent of crimes
Three counties went all of 2015 without a single murder: Hunterdon, Sussex, and Warren
Hunterdon County also had the fewest reported rapes: 6

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