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New Approach to Violent Crime Policing: Will it Work in Camden?

Did you know that on any given night in Camden, there are fewer than 12 police officers on the street? Camden, currently holding the dubious title of Most Dangerous City in America, has the highest murder rate in its history and similar levels for other crimes as a result of cut-to-the-bone budget slashing.  Its response: Abandon the city police department and begin again.

Camden Police Department to be Operated by County

The police department in this city of 77,000 is being replaced with a Camden County force funded by state, city and county revenues. This new organization's sole task is to operate law enforcement in the city of Camden. Police officers who previously worked for the city of Camden will need to apply for positions with the county.

Not All Believe Eliminating City Police Dept. is a Good Idea

The move has proven unpopular in several quarters. The police union views it as union-busting. Camden County taxpayers and official are skeptical that this new unit can operate without additional funding from the county. The Camden County Police Chiefs Association pulled out of organization talks last year, eliminating law enforcement input from all but city police officials. 

Proposal Builds on Success in Orange County

The new county organization is being developed by Jose Cordero, the architect of several police force rebuilding programs in New Jersey and elsewhere. For example, Cordero is credited with reducing crime in East Orange by 75 percent during his tenure as police chief in that city of 70,000. His approach, using community policing and predictive technology, changed not only the crime statistics but the perceptions of residents about the safety of their city.

Cordero's approach focuses on listening to residents, following up after an incident, and putting more sworn officers on the streets, leaving administrative work to civilians. A major component of his crime reduction strategy is technology, particularly sophisticated cameras that, in the words of the East Orange mayor, allows police officers to be in two places at once. The result was that criminals believed that if they committed a crime in East Orange, they would be caught.

Will the approach used in East Orange work in Camden? Gov. Christie and other officials believe it must work. Camden today has a murder rate equivalent to that of some of the most violent third-world countries.

Source: NJSPOTLIGHT, "Camden Takes Drastic measures to Combat Crime," by Tara Nurin, Jan. 23, 2013.

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