Early on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago a unit of Newark narcotics agents headed to the Bradley Housing project, looking for a drug suspect who was also wanted for questioning in at least two murders.
During a pre-raid briefing they were told to keep an eye out for anyone smuggling drugs out the windows, and they were warned the building's doors could be booby-trapped.
"Hopefully we'll all see each other at the end of the job," said a commander.
They have been there before.
"This is a very violent area with a history of shootings and murders, all generated by the narcotics problem," said Police Captain Jim Post.
When the officers arrived they entered the building through a door on which someone had placed an un-authorized padlock. "We always take these locks down, the next day they put them back up," said Sergeant Chris Gialanella.
A small window in the door was covered with a piece of cardboard. Officers said it was removed during the day for drug deals.
The suspect they apprehended had more than 30 prior arrests, 14 felony convictions and "he's still walking the streets," Gialanella said. That's one of the frustrations facing the officers.
"A couple of weeks ago, we hit one of these buildings and got 400 vials (of drugs) off one individual. We came back the next day and got 600," Gialanella said. "For years we were fighting an uphill battle, but finally we're starting to see a little bit of impact. At the end of the night, you want to make a difference".
"The battle is to secure this city," said Mayor Cory A. Booker, whose approach to urban renewal depends as much on fighting crime as re-building Newark's economy. If the city's not secure, he says, businesses won't come and people won't have jobs. So tackling drug-related violence is a top priority.
Newark did not have a centralized narcotics bureau when Booker took office on July 1, 2006. That wasn't the only problem.
"Most violent crime happens at night, yet 60 percent of our police officers were working daytime shifts, 30 percent were behind desks when they should have been on the streets. They lacked equipment, worked in crumbling buildings, precincts had no bathroom facilities, there were few computers. Men were working on typewriters. It looked like something out of Barney Miller," Booker said.
Not everyone was happy with the changes in store. Booker said many officers retired quickly after his arrival.
But his strategy appears to be working. As of Monday, Newark had gone 36 days without a murder. That hasn't happened since the early 1960s. He says he hopes 2008 will be a breakthrough year, but he isn't ready to declare success.
"We've collapsed the murder rate by some 80 percent and shootings are down 60 percent. It's a great stretch... a building block to ultimate success," he said.
Booker has a bigger picture in mind; a national model for urban transformation that is fought on the local level. He called the national government's war on drugs, "a colossal failure that's costing Americans more than they realize."
"Philly, Chicago, Detroit, we're all in this together. We're all in a common fight. Let the Feds argue about family values or moral issues or whatever. The best innovation now, in this country, quite honestly is not at the federal level," he says.
As for his city's efforts, "I think results speak for themselves, and the results right now are screaming to the nation that something is going on in Newark. I've staked my career, I've staked my spirit and heart on this. We're going to win this battle."
By Cami McCormick