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N.J. attorney general visits Camden about crime

New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow came to Camden Thursday to address the crime wave that has spurred outrage in the city, and left without offering any public inkling that quick help is on its way.

New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow came to Camden Thursday to address the crime wave that has spurred outrage in the city, and left without offering any public inkling that quick help is on its way.

The state's top law enforcement officer met separately with Mayor Dana L. Redd and Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk, both of whom have said the city needs a beefed-up police presence, somehow reversing Police Department cuts.

The killing of a popular bodega owner Monday night by masked gunmen - the city's 48th homicide of the year - has lent urgency to their request.

"I had a productive meeting," Dow said in response to questions as she left City Hall. She declined to say whether state troopers or other reinforcements could be part of the immediate response from the state. The state police already has a presence in the city.

Redd and Faulk also would not say what actions might be in the works.

In an e-mailed statement, Faulk said his office had "a candid and open discussion" with Dow and her staff, and more discussions on public safety were expected.

Redd's spokesman, Robert Corrales, would say only that the mayor and Dow met "to address and assess the current public safety situation."

Earlier in the week, Redd said Dow was "receptive" to her calls for assistance but would not elaborate.

Facing a $26 million city budget shortfall, Redd laid off 168 officers, nearly half of the department, in January.

She has since brought back more than 100 of the officers, including four who were sworn in Thursday. But about 50 more members of the department have left or plan to retire or take other jobs, union officials said.

Earlier in the week, Council President Frank Moran called on Redd to declare a state of emergency, to press the state to send in the National Guard or more state troopers, but it appeared unlikely Redd would call an emergency.

A city aide said Tuesday such a declaration was typically reserved for natural disasters and civil disobedience.

Supporters of a controversial proposal to replace the Camden Police Department with a regionalized countywide force have been citing the rash of new violence to push ahead with the plan.

Backers say the plan would boost the number of officers in Camden and save money. However, suburban towns have balked at joining a county force. Camden officers and union officials question whether the plan will save money or protect residents.

On Thursday, a friend of Almonte expressed irritation over what he saw as efforts to use the grocer's killing to further a political agenda.

"Using Miguel to push their agenda of bringing the county police force is insensitive," said Jose Santiago, a former code enforcement officer.

Redd and Moran joined several hundred mourners packing St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Cramer Hill for Almonte's viewing.

His casket was open. Tears filled the sanctuary.

After a brief demonstration outside, mourners brought their signs - in English and Spanish - inside and hung them on the walls. "What are you going to do?" "Bring back the state troopers," and, "No more guns" were some of the pleas on the placards.

The service was partly in Spanish, partly in English. It was explained that although plans originally called for the service to be held at a funeral home, it was decided that since Almonte lived and worked in Cramer Hill, it was only fitting that they first remember him there before moving on to Mays Funeral Home.

A relative remembered the grocer for his generosity and hard work.

Almonte was a father of five who, in addition to his business in Camden, also owned horses in his native Dominican Republic, Santiago said.

Almonte was known to let customers who were short on cash buy groceries on a promise to pay later. He worked long hours at his Bernard Grocery.

Around 8 p.m. Monday, two masked men stormed in with military-style assault rifles, opened fire, and left with an undetermined amount of cash. Three people in the store were wounded.

Santiago said the bodega would have closed about an hour later.