WALT WHITMAN, Camden's famous poet, once dreamed of a city "invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth."

For decades, Camden hasn't been the bulwark Whitman envisioned, and every year, right around Thanksgiving, the city gets reminded of that. That's about the time that the annual list of the nation's most-dangerous cities is released.

Today, Camden was named the nation's second-most-dangerous city, behind New Orleans. Camden has been ranked No. 5 on the list for the past two years and was the nation's most-dangerous city in 2004 and 2005.

"Regardless of what number of ranking we are, being in the top is not a good thing and it's something law enforcement is working to correct," said Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

For city officials, the "most dangerous" rankings are a bane and a minor blessing. They can paint an entire city - its businesses, universities and law-abiding citizens - with a broad brush, but they also shed some much-needed light on major issues.

"I can't deny that there's a level of frustration when these rankings come out," said City Council President Angel Fuentes. "They try to simplify something that is incredibly complex."

One of the complexities, Fuentes said, is another of Camden's dubious distinctions - it is one of the poorest U.S. cities, as well.

"If people want to work together, and create a safer environment, it takes more than handcuffs," he said. "For one, we need to be able to find jobs for people coming out of prison so they don't fall into the same old traps."

"He needs to come here and walk these streets," Fuentes said.

Camden isn't the only city frustrated with the rankings. On Friday, the U.S Conference of Mayors issued a statement calling the statistics "misleading and a disservice to the public."

Even the FBI, whose data comes from law-enforcement agencies, has criticized the rankings.

CQ Press, which purchased the former ranking publisher Morgan Quitno, calculates the rankings based on six FBI crime categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. The rankings are based on crimes per capita for any city with a population of 75,000 or greater, which is why Camden routinely trades spaces with much larger cities such as Detroit and St. Louis.

The new rankings were calculated using a formula based on the FBI statistics for 2007.

Laughlin said that a reorganization of the city's police department, and Gov. Jon Corzine's Camden Anti-Crime initiative, are just two of the many recently publicized efforts to thwart crime in the city.

In July, Camden named a new police chief and director at a time when the city was on pace to beat the record 60 homicides set in 1995. That rate slowed immediately and currently sits at 46 murders - still more than all of last year.

Camden police officials say that they don't need CQ Press to remind them how difficult their job is.

"The report is no revelation," said Camden Police Director Louis Vega in a statement. "We're well aware of the crime statistics, and the unacceptable level of crime is the driving force behind the reorganization and the crime-control plan."

Vega said that the city has been experiencing a significant decrease in crime, but even if Camden's murders remain at 46 till year's end the city will likely be ranked close to the top when next year's report comes out.

Philadelphia improved one spot this year to 22 in the nation's most-dangerous-city rankings. The city marked its 300th murder on Thursday, down from 361 the same time the previous year. Last year, there were 392 murders in Philadelphia.

"[This year] we're up in property crime and down in most of the violent crime categories, except for rape, which is up a tick," said Philadelphia Police Lt. Frank Vanore. "I'm not sure how they compiled the list so it's hard for me to comment at this time."

On the other end of the spectrum, Brick Township, in Ocean County, N.J., was named the nation's fifth-safest city. Officials there could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Staff writer Stephanie Farr contributed to this report.