Crime in Camden, New Jersey hit an all-time high in 2012 – no mean feat for the notoriously dangerous Rust Belt fixture. In 2012 the city had an astonishing 67 murders, and a rash of other violent and property crimes. The government acted by disbanding the city police and instituting the Camden County Police Department Metro Division with the assistance of Governor Chris Christie.
“In a city suffering from epidemic crime, we acted boldly,” said Christie during last month’s State of the State address. “The results? Murder [is] down 51 percent. Firearm assaults [are] down by one-third [and] all violent crime is down 22 percent.”
Not everyone in Camden shares the Governor’s braggadocio, however.
Critics argue that improvements in Camden’s crime rate have been modest, especially after the record highs of 2012 and the years leading up to it.
Christie’s critics also point to severe funding cuts made in the first two years of his term – over $12 million with 160 officers laid off. Critics suggest that it’s unfair for Christie to take the credit for a drop that was only possible because of a spike his budget cuts caused.
But with the new Metro Division police department came the opportunity to reform tactics, notably the increased use of so-called community policing spearheaded by top cop Scott Thompson.
Community policing emphasizes close ties and teamwork between communities and police, as opposed to more aggressive approaches like New York’s infamous “broken windows” policy. That means, for example, more cops on walking beats talking to residents instead of isolating themselves in patrol cars.
“We’re not polarizing communities,” Thompson said. “We fish with a spear and not with a net. Not everyone needs to feel the weight of law enforcement because of four or five individuals.”
Still, while the relationship between police and the Camden community at large may be at an all-time high, crime still has a way to go.
There were 33 murders in 2014, 10 fewer than the average since 2000, but still higher than normal for a city of Camden’s size – ditto the rape and robbery rate, 51 and 531 in 2014, respectively.
“Is what we’re doing really working?” asked Sgt. Durwin Pearson, driving through Camden’s Centerville neighborhood. “It’s not going to be perfect and I’m not going to say it’s going to become crime free, but it will definitely become a good community — like it used to be.”
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