Unifying America: Newark Community Street Team Partners With Police To Connect To Residents

Our new series, Unifying America, highlights people trying to cross racial and cultural divides that separate so many Americans. Today, CBS2's Jessica Layton shows you a special organization in Newark that partners with police, staying at the scene long after the officers leave.

Video Transcript

- Our new series, Unifying America, highlights people trying to cross racial and cultural divides that separate so many Americans. And today we show you a special organization in Newark that partners with police, staying at the scene long after officers leave.

- They have been around for almost seven years, but their work has never been so important. Here CBS2's Jessica Layton with an inside look. How you doing my sister, you heard about Newark Community Street Team?

JESSICA LAYTON: There's a special pride Damon Durden takes in keeping the peace.

- How you doing bro?

JESSICA LAYTON: Protecting people from going down the same path he did. Do you feel like this is your calling?

DAMON DURDEN: Definitely, it's my calling.

JESSICA LAYTON: The leading member of the Newark Community Street Team says, before he was a mentor he was a menace. Spending 22 years in prison for armed robbery and assault. In fact, most of those who are part of the high-risk intervention group are lifelong Newark residents who've had prior run ins with the law.

- Credible messengers or nontraditional leaders Aqeela Sherrills says they all reflect who they serve, giving his crew a community connection during conflicts that most cops don't have.

AQUEELA SHERRILLS: Peace, brother.

- Peace.

JESSICA LAYTON: So whether it's a domestic dispute, or a gang shooting, they can squash retaliation before it happens. Our folks in the community know both the perpetrator and the victim. And so we're able to go in and have a conversation. Folks are just not comfortable talking to police, because of the historic relationship.

- Hey, you keeping it clean brother.

JESSICA LAYTON: We highlighted their work back in July, during the first wave of the pandemic. Since then their partnership with the Newark police department has only grown.

DEPUTY CHIEF BRIAN O'HARA: They come to the scene often, even while we're still there, trying to cool things down. They have folks that have credibility in the community.

- Deputy Chief Brian O'Hara also credits the PD scenario-based de-escalation training with having an impact on overall crime and trust.

DEPUTY CHIEF BRIAN O'HARA: Using our officers and people from Newark, but based off of stuff that was identified as problematic situations elsewhere in the country.

JESSICA LAYTON: Both 2019 and 2020 saw the city's lowest homicide rate in 60 years.

AQUEELA SHERRILLS: Officers didn't shoot their gun, not once, during the whole 2020.

JESSICA LAYTON: And when a health crisis collided with nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, the city made changes.

AQUEELA SHERRILLS: We moved 5% of the city's police budget into a new office of violence prevention and trauma recovery.

JESSICA LAYTON: The mission of the Street Team though is so much more than preventing that next gun from firing. These men and women are helping the people in their neighborhoods through several stages of trauma. From immediate help for victims and families--

- Gives them a feeling of security, knowing that they have someone to go to.

JESSICA LAYTON: to long term healing at their trauma recovery center opening soon.

SEATON DAVIS: And this is going to be a place where people can come and feel served and protected.

JESSICA LAYTON: Sherrills says this shared approach in unifying the city is a model for the nation.

AQUEELA SHERRILLS: This is what law enforcement and community working together looks like.

JESSICA LAYTON: This is risky work, but I can tell you love it. You--

AQUEELA SHERRILLS: Absolutely

JESSICA LAYTON: know you are making a difference.

AQUEELA SHERRILLS: Absolutely, I mean this is my life.

JESSICA LAYTON: In Newark, Jessica Layton, CBS2 News.

- And the results tell the story. That Street Team has about 50 members. Women and men, as you just saw. They hope to open their trauma recovery center to the public by the spring, offering individual counseling, group therapy, yoga, and meditation, and transitional housing.

- Making a difference one person at a time.

- That's where it starts, right?