A spike in crime in the Newark area isn’t out of the ordinary as University of Delaware students return to campus, but a recent Main Street mugging and two fires started by arson has raised some eyebrows.
Even so, Mayor Jerry Clifton says he has faith in the police department to solve the cases and stop the arson.
“We usually see an increase in crime in the fall around when the students come back,” said City Manager Tom Coleman. “We usually run more frequent patrols in the area during the fall.”
They are often to protect students, who generally are the victims of crime, not the perpetrators, officials and business owners said.
Lt. Andrew Rubin seconded that.
“There is a rise in crime in Newark when the students come back. It’s not usually violent crimes,” said Rubin. “More people mean more crimes.”
Recent incidents included two men mugging a pedestrian and then robbing him on Main Street, as well as arsons at an empty apartment building and the Chabad Center for Jewish Life on South College Avenue.
“Arson fires aren’t common in the Newark area. Robberies aren’t common either,” Rubin said. “I can’t tell you much about the arson investigations because we’re not the lead investigators on that, the fire Marshall is.”
Some residents have noticed a heavier police presence.
“I like to go bike riding at night. I feel safe,” said Michael Romagnoli, owner of Newark Camera. “The night before last I went to go take pictures of the Newark train station and a UD patrol car stopped to check out what I was doing.”
The business owner also has noticed a rise in crime around the time UD reopens. Students moved into dorms last weekend for the fall semester, most of which will be online.
“I think a lot of it is people coming from out of town to prey on the students,” Romagnoli said.
Marilyn Vickey, owner of Grassroots on Main Street, echoed that.
“I’ve never associated crime with the students coming back,” Vickey said. “There’s muggings and purse snatchings, but it’s usually the students that are victims.”
Clifton believes that it is a bit too early to speculate about what recent crime means for the city.
“Before we make a comment on the arson, we need to see the extent of the investigation,” Clifton said, “We need to see if there was an issue or disagreement between the two parties in regard to the mugging.”
The mayor is confident in both the police ability to solve the cases and in the cities’ overall response.
Romagnoli, who was biking in the area at the time of the Chabad house arson, smelled the smoke and came racing to the scene to snap pictures of fire fighters in real time.
“The arson is disturbing enough as it is,” Romagnoli said. “What we need to know is if this was just people messing around or if this was a hate crime.”
Investigators have said there is no evidence the Chabad fire was a hate crime. A student-led fundraiser has collected more than $500,000 to rebuild the center.
Romagnoli was not only concerned with the fire as a neighbor, but a business owner as well.
“I think we have the second oldest building in Newark,” said Romagnoli of his shop on Main Street. “We have cameras installed as well as security alarms. but there’s still not much we can do to prevent an arson.”
Clifton believes the recent events are a spike in what is otherwise a downward trend in crime in the area.
“If you look at the last 10 years in Newark, crimes has gone down,” the mayor said. “This is reminiscent of 2007 or so when we had home invasions. Police put an end to that. This is just another bump in the road.”