by Nicholas Henry
Camden New Jersey, which is still known as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, is in the midst of abolishing their one hundred and forty one year old police department in favor for a new non-union countywide force. The Camden Metro Police Division, which will be the new name, will dismiss the current 270 Camden police officers in favor for 400 new officers for roughly the same price. With residents and business’s being scared off by increasing crime and drug rates, a much larger police force will increase safety to attract businesses, so that the city of Camden can once again return to its former glory.
Camden New Jersey was once a thriving industrial city. Producing the likes of the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, which at the time was the world’s largest shipyard, and the Victor Talking Machine Company, the largest producer of phonographs. “It employed some 36,000 workers in its shipyards during World War II and built some of the nation’s largest warships. It was the home to major industries, from RCA Victor to Campbell’s Soup. It was a destination for immigrants and upwardly mobile lower middle class families. Camden now resembles a penal colony.” (Hedges) However with crime and drug rates increasing the city is now left with trash burning plants, cement plants, scrap metal feedings and large prison fences. The city’s population has fallen by more than forty percent and businesses such as hotels, car dealerships and movie theaters are no more. “Camden is said to be both the poorest and the most dangerous city in the U.S. It is estimated that less than 70% of Camdenites are employed, and only 13 percent of its high school students have been able to meet the state’s minimum requirements for numeracy” (City of Ruins).
The crime in the city of Camden has been on a steady incline since the riot wars in the 1950s, but has seen a slight drop off when Camden’s Police force was at an all time high in 2010. Cutting loose 160 officers, Camden searched to fill the gap of lost money. “Reports on the layoff of police and firefighters in Camden, New Jersey on January 18, 2011. It states that the layoffs aims to balance the budget of Camden, which has a deficit amounting $26.5 million” (American City & County Exclusive Insight). According to the FBI Report of Offenses Known to Law Enforcement, this decrease in officers pushed crime rates up to 5,506 for the city in 2012. Back in 2010 when officer enforcement was at an all the time, the city’s crime rate was around 5,311, which shows that a higher police force does reduce the city’s crime rate. With nearly 44% of the force gone, the crime and drug rate seem to have no hope until a large police force is put back into Camden.
With increasing costs to the city of Camden, police officers will further be laid off and a new countywide police force will be established called the Metro Police Division. Currently Camden’s police force has roughly 270 members, however with the new countywide force, the number will increase to around 400 officers. However, with current contracts only about half of the current officers will be eligible to move into this new division. With a budget of sixty million for 400 officers, Chief Scott Thompson will be placed in command to lead this Metro Division. The goal of the new division will be to decrease crime and drug rates so that the city is not only safer for current residents but also for future business and families.
A much larger police force will certainly make areas of Camden safer, but will it attract business? Rutgers Camden is a much safer area due to the larger police force of around 114 officers. The crime rate is extremely low compared to the surrounding neighbor cities. This area has attracted the likes of the Campbell’s Field, Adventure Aquarium and the Susquehanna Center. The increased public safety has recently even attracted three new businesses to city itself. With the new twelve story Rutgers housing facility being finished, it has left room for three new businesses at the lower level. The companies 7-11, Subway and Three Chilies Grille will soon open and provide business to Rutgers students and to the community as well. The companies will employ around 55 workers. The increased safety in this area has even convinced 7-11 to stay open 24-7 as well.
Some may argue that Camden is a much larger area and that even 400 new officers will not be enough to make a difference in crime. If the countywide police division is adopted by the whole county then that can give Camden an even larger force. Currently Camden County has thirty-seven municipalities up and running to protect this county only. If all thirty-seven agree to join it would allow for more officers to be put in Camden then in areas where crime is not a concern. However municipalities such as Voorhees Police are already against the proposal.
Voorhees Mayor Michael Mignogna has openly acknowledge the merger and has voiced his opinion publicly about the proposal, “Neither I nor any other member of the Voorhees Township Committee would be in favor of joining any countywide police department that would abolish our local force and use Voorhees’ tax dollars to police other municipalities such as Camden City. Voorhees has one of the finest police departments in New Jersey and the safety of our residents is our primary concern. Our officers are intimately familiar with our community, allowing them to more effectively serve and protect” (South Jersey Sun News).
To cities such as Voorhees, this would take away from the time it could focus into other programs such as DARE, KIDZ ID, crime awareness and their own public safety. Although they refuse to join the countywide force they already join in “share services” which allow immediate surrounding officers to aid and help other police forces so that one may attend an accident while another force can help with patrolling a community event. If Camden could get other surrounding municipalities or even other county forces to adopt this “share services” with them then the Metro Police Division can grow without hesitation. They could establish monthly meetings and map out a plan on how many officers are needed during certain days of the week in Camden.
If Camden county municipalities are already against the merger then how do other surrounding municipalities feel about their neighbor? In a brief interview with Maple Shade officer Brian Shaw, he answers a few questions about the Camden’s countywide merger.
Q: How would you feel if Burlington County created a countywide force?
A: “If Burlington County were to propose a countywide department I don’t see us taking part. This is mostly due to our high call volume. We answer over 20,000 calls for service a year and combing with another agency would impede the service we provide to our residents. For example, if we were in Camden County and joined the county wide force, much of that department’s resources would be dedicated to the City of Camden resulting in reduced response time and reduction in service to the citizens of Maple Shade.
Additionally, all of our officers are require to live in town prior to being hired, so we have guys and girls who have personal connection to the town and are intimately familiar with it. If we were to expand our pool of applicants or combine with another agency, we should lose this valuable asset. Most importantly, having our department allows us to look at the needs of the community and tailor our rules, regulations and policing styles so that we are providing a more personalized service to our residents. A larger department serving multiple communities is not able to do that.”
Q: It looks as if a larger police force would reduce cities crime rate, but other municipalities are not in favor of it. Do you have any suggestions or opinions on an alternative solution for the city, instead of creating a countywide force?
A: “In my opinion, the purpose of the county wide force is being misrepresented. The politicians are saying that it will help the city when all it is actually doing is acting as a union buster. The city will no longer have to honor current police contracts and will be able to hire officers for half of what they are making now and provide less benefits. The true answer to helping to the city would be to keep the current city department and address the issues that are causing it to deteriorate. Address the short falls of the administrators and hold the current officers responsible for doing their job the right way. There are many good officers currently working in Camden who could take charge and lead the way. They just need to be given the tools to do it.
With a countywide police force being created and no surrounding participation from other Camden county municipalities, will Camden continue to increase crime rates yearly? With a much larger force that creates more public safety we have already seen more businesses being attracted to the city of Camden. If this county wide force can reach out and grow then Camden’s safety should be able to increase, but with current municipalities such as Voorhees voicing their opinion, it seems that Camden might not even be able to reach out to other counties as well. Perhaps Camden can even adopt the “share services” analogy as well and acquire local help from surrounding officers. Camden has the potential to be a safe place and attract a lot of business, but it’s up to the people to decide if they want to join or not.
City Crime Rate Report (New jersey). 2012. CityRating.com
“City Of Ruins.” Nation 291.21 (2010): 15-20. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Dec. 2012
Hedges, Chris. “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco,
CA.June 27, 2012, http://www.citylights.com/info/?fa=event&event_id=1508
“New Jersey Town Lays Off Police, Firefighters.” American City & County
Exclusive Insight (2011): 3. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.
Voorhees mayor: No to countywide police force. 2011. South Jersey Sun News. 24
Aug. 2011.<sj.sunne.ws/2011/08/24/Voorhees-mayor-no-to-countywide- police-force/>