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Keeping an eye on Camden streets

The Corporation Watch has been on patrol for 25 years.

Camden Corporation Watch is keeping an eye on the city.

The security cooperative, made up of more than 35 businesses, Rutgers University and the city police, strives to ensure safety near the county court and administrative buildings, the Camden waterfront, and the Rutgers campus.

It's not easy to fight perceptions created from Camden's past ranking as the nation's most dangerous city and periodic spikes in violent crime. But this group has been determined - for 25 years. It celebrated its anniversary in November.

"It works very well," said Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. "It's an effective cooperative in Camden that has the community and law enforcement cooperating together. It's hard to get started and hard to sustain, and this is one that has stood the test of time."

The group was started in 1982 by Radio Corp. of America, B.P.U.M. Security, Campbell Soup Co. and Rutgers-Camden. It shares resources, such as security cameras and patrols, and spreads the word, for example, when car-theft rings or sexual predators are in the area.

"The police say it's invaluable to have the group together, which provides them with extra eyes and ears," Laughlin said. "It proves that when you get the community involved, it makes the neighborhoods safer."

Watch members meet twice a month, primarily to discuss safety, security and crime prevention issues around the downtown area, said Rutgers Police Chief Gary Still, who serves as the group's president.

"The future goals of the group include the long-term sharing of information and effectively coming together to promote a higher visibility presence of law enforcement and security officers," Still said.

Eddie Colon has been working in Camden's business district for about eight years as executive assistant to City Council. On a recent afternoon, he was out getting his lunch - with no trepidations traversing the downtown streets.

"I was raised in Camden, and it's like anywhere else: You have to know where to go," Colon said. "Obviously, certain areas are more dangerous, but downtown, I feel very safe."