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Breaking news & local stories from Camden City, Berlin, Laurel Springs and more

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    Rutgers closed all three of its campuses at 2 p.m. after initially saying it would remain open during the snowstorm.

    Rutgers University sent its employees and students home at 2 p.m. Thursday after the worsening blizzard conditions forced school officials to rethink an earlier plan to keep all three of its campuses open.

    Some employees and students criticized the state university for announcing it would operate on a regular schedule despite Gov. Chris Christie's declaration of a State of Emergency in several New Jersey counties.

    A Rutgers spokeswoman said Thursday morning that university officials planned to monitor the weather situation throughout the day.

    Rutgers President Robert Barchi declared a Weather Emergency Closure at 2 p.m., allowing faculty and staff to go home. Classes for students attending Winter Session are cancelled.

    All three campuses -- New Brunswick-Piscataway, Newark and Camden -- will reopen at 10 a.m. Friday, according to the university's announcement.

    The university's clinical operations, including clinical offices related to the university's medical schools, will remain open, university officials said.

    Kelly Heyboer may be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyHeyboer. Find her at KellyHeyboerReporter on Facebook.
     

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    The list will be updated as more information becomes available, so please check back often.

    Snow and heavy winds lead many Camden County school administrators to announce school closing and delayed openings on Thursday. 

    With snow accumulating throughout the day, some officials have begun announcing closures and delays for Friday.

    Here's a list of schools that have already announced they will either open later or not at all on Friday. Additional schools will be added as districts announce closures and delayed openings.

    CLOSED

    • Berlin Township School District
    • Camden City School District
    • Camden County Technical Schools
    • Camden's Promise Charter School
    • Clementon School District
    • Gloucester Township School District
    • Pine Hill Borough School District
    • Stratford Borough School District
    • Voorhees Township School District
    • Waterford Township School District
    • Winslow Township School District

    DELAYED

    • Cherry Hill Township School District -- 2 hours

    Caitlyn Stulpin may be reached at cstulpin@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @caitstulpin. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    NJ.com looks at noteworthy items, news and events in its first edition of wrestling hot takes for 2018


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    The latest hot takes from New Jersey basketball


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    See what happened this week in girls basketball across New Jersey.


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    He was found sitting on one of the three victims, holding a knife, police said.

    The loved ones of two step-sisters who were allegedly stabbed to death Dec. 30 wiped away tears in a Camden courtroom Friday morning, even before Mark Lyczak, the man accused of killing them and seriously injuring another woman, entered the courtroom in handcuffs.

    They were left bewildered when, after a brief, whispered conversation with his attorney, he was quickly taken out of the courtroom again, and later had his detention hearing postponed until Jan. 18.

    According to police, Lyczak, 44, of Burlington killed his ex-fiance, Colleen Brownell, 48, and her step-sister, Alysia McCloskey, 41, at the latter's home in Collingswood.

    Brownell broke up with Lyczak and took out a restraining order this summer, according to friends, and also told her friends she moved in with her step-sister and McCloskey's two sons because she was afraid to live alone due to Lyczak's behavior.

    The third victim, who is reportedly Lyczak's current girlfriend, was also stabbed at the house but is recovering from her injuries, officials said. It is not clear why she was at the home.

    collingswood-killings.jpgSisters Colleen Brownell, 48, left, and Alysia McCloskey, 41, were killed Saturday by Mark Lyczak, 44, according to the Camden County Prosecutor. (Facebook) 

    For Brownell's friends, who said they're afraid Lyczak could be released, the detention hearing delay means another two weeks of worrying, while they deal with the grief over the loss.

    Before bail reform was enacted in 2017, murder defendants were always granted bail, although the amount was high. Now there is a presumption that defendants charged with murder be detained pending trial, but a defense attorney can argue that mitigating factors, or protections that could be put in place, warrant the defendant's release.

    However, no one charged with murder has been released pending trial since bail reform went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, according to a courts spokesman.

    A horrific scene

    According to a probable cause statement prepared by police, officers responded to McCloskey's home on East Narberth Terrace after a neighbor called 911. The neighbor told police residents heard a disturbance at the house, went to see what was wrong and saw a man exiting the house holding a knife.

    Police responding to the call found McCloskey on the house's front porch and Brownell on the living room floor, both apparently dead from stab wounds, the statement said.

    Lyczak was sitting on the couch, holding a knife and on top of a third woman, who had stab wounds, police said.

    Officers ordered Lyczak to drop the knife, but he stood up instead. They "secured" him and he dropped the knife, according to the probable cause statement.

    The report notes that Brownell had a restraining order against Lyczak and also said an officer recognized him "from a previous domestic violence incident encounter at the same residence."

    Court records show that Lyczak was charged with violating a restraining order in August. The prosecutor's office would not confirm whether Brownell was the victim in that incident.

    Friends of Brownell said she was a fun, outgoing person and a great friend, who was turning her life around after the break-up. She had recently reconnected with a son in Florida and was planning to move there, they said.

    A friend who did not want to give her name said she witnessed Lyczak be verbally abusive and controlling to Brownell, but never violent. Other friends said Brownell confided in them that she was afraid of Lyczak.

    McCloskey was a devoted to her two sons, they said, and very close with and supportive of Brownell.

    The 'waiting game'

    After the proceedings Friday, several friends -- wearing photographs of Brownell on lanyards around their necks -- were unsettled and unsure about what they witnessed in the courtroom.

    The proceedings were odd, with Lyczak entering the courtroom and asking his attorney, public defender Meg Butler, a series of questions in whispered tones. She asked and was granted permission to meet with her client alone. Butler then met with Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah.

    She then asked McBride to postpone the proceeding for two-weeks but gave no reason for the request. 

    A friend of Brownell's said it felt like a "waiting game" and said she worried Lyczak could be a danger to her and her friends if he is released. "I am praying that he will never be released for the safety of all involved," she said.

    Do restraining orders work?

    Outside the courtroom Friday, Maria Kirk said the death of her friend Brownell has opened her eyes to the limited protections the court system can offer those who fear domestic violence.

    "The people who have restraining orders [against them], they don't care that they are breaking the law, so it's pretty much meaningless," she said.

    Sitting in court waiting for Lyczak's hearing, Kirk said, she witnessed several defendants that morning who had violated restraining orders but were still released. "We see them go home," she said.

    Attempts to reach memebers of Lyczak's family were unsuccessful this week.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook. 


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    Though temperatures will drop below freezing this weekend, homeless shelters say they are working as they would any other day


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    Mark Lyczak is accused of murdering his ex-fiance and her stepsister, and wounding a third woman.

    A resident of East Narberth Terrace in Collingswood stopped her car on the little, dead-end street Saturday afternoon and called 911, telling the dispatcher that she only knew that there was some kind of domestic incident at a friend's house and someone was hurt.

    Then suddenly, the words poured out quickly in a panicked voice.

    "Oh my God. There's blood everywhere. Get an ambulance!" she said. After a few moments, she screamed, "He stabbed her!"

    Hers was one of three 911 calls neighbors made that afternoon when, according to authorities, Mark Lyczak, 44, stabbed to death his ex-fiance, Colleen Brownell, 48, and her stepsister, Alysia McCloskey, 41, in McCloskey's home. Police said they found him with a knife on top of a third woman, who was stabbed but survived, according to a police statement. The woman was reportedly Lyczak's girlfriend.

    lyczak-hearing-cropped.jpgMark Lyczak, accused of murdering two women and injuring a third, talks with his lawyer, Meg Butler, center, in Superior Court in Camden Jan. 5, 2018. 

    Police documents confirmed what Brownell's friends said earlier this week: that she had a restraining order against Lyczak when they broke up in July, and he had been involved in a previous domestic incident at the home. Friends said Brownell told them she moved in with her step-sister because she was too afraid to live alone.

    Lyczak remains in the Camden County Jail, after asking during his detention hearing Friday to postpone the proceeding until Jan. 18. 

    Stepsisters were loving, 'super-close'

    The three 911 calls released Friday reveal the confusion, panic and eventual horror as residents who live in the close-knit neighborhood realized what was going on.

    The callers say that a disturbance or fight is happening, as people in the background shout for someone to get an ambulance, or to pass on information as they realized how bad the situation actually was.

    One caller looked from her porch to McCloskey's and told the dispatcher what she saw. "My neighbor's sister is facedown on her porch," she said. "I think he's got a knife in his hand."

    Another caller began by reporting a man with a knife yelling on the porch, saying, "he's telling us we're all dead." After a minute, he said, "We've got somebody down."

    The caller who was in her car followed the dispatcher's instructions not to get out of the vehicle, as she tearfully relayed information about the victims inside the home.

    "They're on the floor in the kitchen and he won't let us in to get to them," she cried. She identified him as Brownell's ex, Mark.

    In the end of the call, just before police arrived, a person can be heard telling the caller that she believes one of the women is dead.

    "No she can't be. She's not dead. She's fine," the caller sobbed. 

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Pooch pulled from freezing waters over weekend.

    It wasn't even the first animal rescue of the day. But first responders from the Oaklyn Fire Department have won praise and a special award from a state animal welfare group for pulling a dog out of freezing water over the weekend after it fell through ice.

    "These brave firefighters were ready and willing to enter that icy creek and pull this dog from the treacherous waters," says PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange. "PETA hopes their kindness and swift actions will inspire everyone to look out for animals in need, especially during the dangerous winter months."

    The dog, Lilly, was quickly reunited with her owners after two Oaklyn volunteer firefighters, battalion Chief Greg Grudzinski and Capt. Fred Bartling, used ice-rescue suits, ropes and a sled to crawl 150 feet reached to her on Newton Creek near Kendall Boulevard.

    "It's a good feeling to have a successful outcome," Oaklyn Fire Chief Scott Carins said. "It's basically the entire reason we're in this business."

    The day started with a report of a fully involved fire in a backyard chicken coop at 7:45 a.m. and then rolled into an ice rescue to save a pooch in peril on a creek that had not frozen solid an hour later.

    Firefighters will will receive a framed certificate, a box of vegan cookies and a copy of The Engine 2 Diet, a Texas firefighter's 28-day plan for staying in prime firefighting shape by eating vegan meals.

    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    Who's lighting it up?


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    N.J.'s estimated 8,500 homeless sought shelter in soup kitchens, community centers, tents and elsewhere as temperatures approached record levels this weekend. Watch video

    The night before temperatures dipped into the single digits, Lisa F. turned on her propane heater and tucked herself into three sleeping bags. 

    Although just a thin tent separated her from frigid air that dipped in or near the single digits, she said she was warm as she slept in her makeshift home in a wooded area off a Route 9 commercial strip in Howell. 

    "We're hanging in there," she said Saturday morning as she turned up her heater.

    Lisa, a part-time caterer, is one of 13 people staying at a homeless encampment run by Minister Steve Brigham. Across the state, an estimated 8,500 homeless people sought shelter in libraries, community centers, soup kitchens or places like Howell's homeless camp as temperatures approached record levels this weekend. Temperatures were expected to reach minus 4 degrees early Sunday morning in some parts of the state.

    In most towns, police officers and shelter workers drove circuitous routes searching for the homeless and a way to help them. In Trenton, officers on endangered person patrol looked in parks, the train station and other places the homeless gather.

    'I'm scared I'm going to be frozen'

    While many found shelter during this nearly two-week stretch of frigid weather, some did not. Michael Fleming, 57, was found dead in the snow outside of Charlie's Liquor Store by the Vineland police on Thursday morning. Police said he died in area where some of the indigent population of Vineland are known to frequent, and likely died of exposure to the cold. 

    Another still unidentified man was found dead outside in downtown Elizabeth Friday morning. It's not known if he was homeless, but police said his death may be weather related. 

    Ramon Garcia prefers to brave the cold; sleeping in a room of strangers isn't for everyone, the 44-year-old from Camden says. He also doesn't like that staff want you to do paperwork and will "kick you out" early in the morning.

    "I do worry 'cause I know (Saturday night) the temperature's going to be very low, and this morning was 9 degrees, and where I am is very windy," he said. "I'm scared I'm going to be frozen."

    Simone Yarell, director of operations at Newark's new winter shelter on Sussex Avenue, said like most places, the homeless are required to leave at 8 a.m. and return at 4 p.m. But because of the frigid temperatures, Yarell is letting residents stay around the clock.

    "That's what makes me sleep better at night," she said. "Knowing this place is being run right and nobody has to be put out on the street."

    'The cold don't let me sleep'

    shelterAris.jpgA makeshift home is created from a drainage pipe in Camden. (Joe Warner | For NJ.com) 

    Garcia doesn't get much sleep where he's staying now, in an unused concrete culvert in an abandoned lot in Camden. He's blocked the ends of the culvert with cardboard, boards and, ironically, a large plastic banner advertising two- and three-bedroom apartments for rent.

    "I just sit there and shake, 'cause the cold don't let me sleep," he said Saturday after lunch at Cathedral Kitchen, a nonprofit on Federal Street that provides hot meals and groceries.

    By day, Garcia said he finds warm places to go, from the day shelters that let him take a shower, to the Mexican food store where they let him hang out for an hour, and sometimes give him coffee.

    "When night falls, I hide up in my place," he said.

    Garcia wore a sweatshirt, jeans and work boots, and had jacket draped over his chair, but no gloves or hat. Before he left the soup kitchen, volunteer Mary Ann Gregory wrapped her plaid scarf snuggly around his neck. "Pull it over your face," she told him.

    Jeff Carr, 30, of Camden, said he has been homeless for two years and when winter comes, he gets prepared. "I wear extra clothing," he said, including two jackets, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks on Saturday. "I gotta make sure I have gloves."

    This recent extreme temperatures don't impact him much, he said. After leaving the shelter each morning, he heads for the library or the programs where he knows he can at least sit and be warm before it's time to move on.

    "It's pretty much the same," he said. 

    'It's a life'

    In Howell, snow blanketed most of the three-acre encampment and sunk at least three tents. A sign at the entrance to the camp read "Home for the Homeless." Ornaments and wood chimes hung on bare branches throughout the camp. Some tents were for cooking; others for storage.

    "Snow is difficult, it can crush your tent with just two inches," said Brigham, 57, who shoveled walking paths to get around and spent Thursday sweeping the snow off tents to keep them from collapsing. 

    "People are hunkered down ... more so than normal," he said as he walked through more than a foot of snow to reach the camp's prayer garden. "I'm more concerned for the homeless outside the camp."

    Many of the encampment's residents were off at work, mostly at part-time or per diem jobs, on Saturday morning. People came by to donate propane tanks to keep the tents warm, asking how everyone was coping.

    Chad White, of Toms River, stopped by to drop off a case of propane. "I wanted to see if everyone was OK," White said. "It's so cold." 

    A few of those staying at the Howell homeless camp went to nearby warming centers, unable to bear the brutal cold. But most stayed, warmed by their small propane heaters inside their Walmart tents. Large plastic coverings helped insulate the tents.

    "It's my home," said Olga Savka, 63, an Ukrainian immigrant who has lived inside her tent for nine months. "First time in my life I stay outside but I stay warm, I have good friends, it's a family."

    Sitting inside her cozy tent, decorated with photos of her late husband and trinkets gifted to her by strangers, Savka said here, she was able to cook, eat and help others.

    "It's a life," she said, surrounded by Ukrainian books, a basket of pears and Mickey Mouse stuffed animals. 

    Taylor Tiomoyo Harris and Kevin Shea contributed to this report.

    Karen Yi may be reached at kyi@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey await adoption.

    It's always a good idea to think about how winter affects pets as much as people. BluePearl Veterinary Partners has some tips for protecting pets during freezing weather.

    * The most common-sense tip is - don't leave a pet in the cold for too long. Bring pets inside if you start to see redness in their tails or ears or they start to shiver. Once inside, help them clear any ice between their toes.

    * Find a de-icer that is pet-friendly if you use one on your driveway and sidewalks. Various toxins and even salt can cause problems for pets, as they have a tendency to lick the substances off their paws.

    * Winter can make it hard for pets to find their way back home because ice and snow mask familiar scents and paths. Make sure dogs and cats that are allowed to roam have identification tags and, if possible, are microchipped.

    * Dogs can't say "My arthritis is acting up in this cold." If a pet struggles when getting up and moving around the house, a trip to the vet might be in order. Also, make sure there is soft and warm bedding available in cold weather.

    * A sweater or coat for short-haired dogs is a wise investment. Rather than being decorative, items like these are highly functional in cold weather.

    Until the temperatures rise to springtime levels, it's a good idea to make sure your pets are as comfortable in cold weather as you are.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at ghatala@starledger.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    Killings dropped significantly in Newark and in Camden County, typically epicenters for violent crime.


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    School districts announced delayed openings and closures on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 following a brutal weekend of cold temperatures

    The lingering effects of a blizzard that swept through New Jersey on Thursday followed by dangerously cold temperatures over the weekend have forced some school closures and delayed openings for Monday, Jan. 8.

    While temperatures are expected to climb above freezing for much of the state for the first time in a while, many residents woke up to temperatures in the single digits or teens. And there's a potential for another bout of wintry weather Monday afternoon with sleet and freezing rain in the forecast.

    Many schools, particularly in South Jersey, had Thursday and Friday off due to the storm.

    Here's a list of school districts that have delayed openings and closures for Monday. The list will be updated as additional announcements are made.

    CAMDEN COUNTY

    • Camden City -- closing at 1 p.m.
    • Kipp Cooper Norcross Academy: Lanning, 2 p.m., Whittier, 2:15 p.m.
    • Mastery Schools of Camden -- closing at 1 p.m.
    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
     

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    The Who's No. 1 Duals headlines a busy week of wrestling


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    The bill would enhance the pensions of a well-connected former Camden mayor and some other New Jersey elected officials.

    A controversial bill that would enhance the pensions of well-connected former Camden Mayor Dana Redd and some other New Jersey elected officials is now in the hands of Gov. Chris Christie after being rushed through the state Legislature.

    The state Assembly voted 41-19, with three abstentions, at the Statehouse in Trenton on Monday to give final legislative approval to the Democratic-sponsored measure less than a month after it was introduced. 

    The state Senate -- which, like the Assembly, is controlled by Democrats -- passed the legislation 23-9 last month. 

    It's now up to Christie, a Republican who has long been allies with Redd, to either sign or veto the bill before he leaves office Jan. 16. 

    State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, another Redd ally, said he doesn't know if Christie will sign it.

    "We passed it," Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told reporters after Monday's vote. "We'll see what he does."

    The measure (S3620) would allow some politicians to re-enroll in the state's Public Employees' Retirement System after being kicked out because they switched positions. 

    The most notable beneficiary would be Redd, a Democrat who just finished two terms as mayor of Camden. Redd -- who is also aligned with influential south Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross III -- often teamed with Christie and Sweeney to push the revitalization of the city over the last decade.

    Sponsors say the bill would also benefit some other elected officials -- such as state Assembly members James Beach, D-Camden, and Ralph Caputo, D-Essex -- but they have never specified how many. 

    The legislation was fast-tracked through the lame-duck legislative session -- with support from a number of Republicans -- before a new set of lawmakers is sworn in Tuesday and Christie is succeeded by Gov.-elect Phil Murphy a week later. 

    New Jersey's pension liability is more than $90 billion -- among the largest in the nation. 

    But Democratic leaders say he cost to taxpayers is minor because the legislation would affect a small number of officials in a pension system where more than 80,000 are enrolled.

    Still, there was a temporary hold-up Monday when both the current state Senate and Assembly gathered for their final voting sessions.

    Only 32 members of the Assembly initially voted for the bill -- nine votes short of the 41 it needed to pass. 

    Hours later, though, sponsors gathered enough votes to it to pass with the minimum votes needed. 

    At issue is a 2007 law that mandated all newly elected officials be placed in a less generous "defined contribution" pension plan similar to a (401)k.

    Incumbent elected officials were allowed to stay in the traditional pension system, as long as they kept the same office -- with the exception of lawmakers who moved between the state Senate and Assembly.

    That meant when when Redd  -- then a state senator and Camden councilwoman -- was elected mayor in 2010, the pension she had been collecting since 1990 was frozen.

    The bill passed after Politico New Jersey reported last week that Redd is a top contender for a high-paying job overseeing the Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors.

    Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.


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    Strategies employed by the modernized county-run police force are working, and can no longer be called a fluke.

    When the annual homicide totals start coming out in January, the fingers start pointing:

    Bad, bad, increasingly violent young people. Nothing for them to do but join gangs or sell drugs.

    Bad, bad, ineffective law enforcement. Not enough funding for them to protect public safety the way they should.

    As 2018 begins, the finger-pointers in New Jersey can leave some of their excuses at home. Preliminary tallies show the number of such killings in the state declined 7 percent in 2017. And, perhaps nowhere is the reduction more marked than in Camden City, where officials can finally stop debating detractors with claims that previous years' reduced homicide tolls were a "fluke." 

    According to the Courier-Post, the Camden County Police Department, which patrols the city, listed 23 homicides in 2017, citing the number as a 30-year low. The county prosecutor's office, which tallies the number slightly differently, recorded 25 city homicides.

    By either measure, Camden City led the way for close to a 40 percent dip in homicides countywide, from 55 in 2016, to just 34 last year. The prosecutors' totals also include manslaughter, vehicular homicide and police-involved killings.

    In 2016, there were 44 homicides in Camden. That year, the city backslid a little, after recording 34 homicides in 2015. But the trend is now unmistakable: Camden recorded 67 homicides in 2012 and 58 in 2013. 

    Clearly, the reformed police force under Chief J. Scott Thomson is doing something right. The results do not prove that removing a city-run police force and breaking its inflexible union, as Camden did in 2013, and installing lower-paid cops who work for the county, is a crime-reduction panacea. It's more likely that the approach to policing that Thomson installed -- more community officers, pre-emptive patrols in places where crime is likely to occur, even real-time mapping of gunshot locations -- is paying off.

    Based on a NJ Advance Media preliminary analysis, New Jersey as a whole had 335 homicides last year, compared with 362 in 2016.

    "Though final numbers are still not available, we know that there has been a significant reduction in violent crime overall in New Jersey, including a very significant reduction in the total number of homicides, with certain cities seeing dramatic reductions," said Attorney General Christopher Porrino.

    Year-to-year homicide totals also declined in New Jersey's largest city, Newark, as well as in Burlington County. Atlantic and Cumberland counties' total remained relatively stable. In two South Jersey counties that usually report much lower numbers, Salem County had three homicides in 2017 compared with five in 2016; Gloucester County had seven last year compared with five in 2016.

    Remember that homicide TOTALS are not the same as homicide RATES, which factor in population. By way of a rough comparison, Philadelphia (population 1.6 million) had 314 homicides last year, representing a five-year high. That's just 17 fewer than the entire State of New Jersey (population 9 million).

    By that measure, things are better in the Garden State, but we still have too many pockets of violent crime. Initiatives like those being employed in Camden City and the large gun buy-backs that Porrino cites are having an impact. Yet, these good strategies must fight a countervailing tide of easily available guns  imported illegally from states with weaker laws, as well as the criminality involved in supplying demand during the surging opioid addiction crisis.

    It's good news that the positive tide is winning for now, but it will take extra effort to keep the negative factors at bay during 2018.

    Send a letter to the editor of South Jersey Times at sjletters@njadvancemedia.com

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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    This comes after the number of homicides spiked to 44 in 2016.


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