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Christie sends troopers into Camden amid crime surge

Gov. Christie ordered a state police surge Monday in Camden to help curb a jump in crime amid sharp cutbacks in the city's police force.

Gov. Christie ordered a state police surge Monday in Camden to help curb a jump in crime amid sharp cutbacks in the city's police force.

State officials would not say how many more troopers would join a contingent that has been working in the city, when they would arrive, and how long they would stay.

Law enforcement sources said last week that troopers were expected as early as Monday evening.

The reinforcements came after calls to the state by Mayor Dana L. Redd and Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk for assistance for the police force, which suffered massive layoffs in January.

"We believe this increase in law enforcement resources is the best way to aid the Camden Police Department and the people of the city in an immediate manner," Attorney General Paula Dow, who has been nominated to a Superior Court judgeship, said in a news release.

Dow met with Redd and Faulk on Thursday to discuss the city's crime wave. There have been 48 homicides this year - 11 more than at this time last year. Other crimes - violent and nonviolent - also have sharply risen.

The killing of a popular bodega owner during a robbery on Dec. 5 raised a public outcry and lent urgency to the pleas for state intervention.

"They need to do something to stop what's going on in Camden," Jose Serrata, a co-owner of Los Compadres, a North Camden bodega, said Monday upon hearing that help was on the way.

Serrata has six cameras inside his small store near Sixth and Vine Streets, and two cameras outside the building. He said local store owners like him are targets because of the lagging economy.

"I have to protect myself every time I'm working. You never know what can happen to you," he said.

Sister Helen Cole and her staff and volunteers at Guadalupe Family Services, a social service ministry of Holy Name of Camden Ministries in North Camden, welcomed the state troopers though she said more city police would have been ideal because local officers know the neighborhoods and residents.

"Sometimes it's the just the perception of safety. People feel safe because they see police cars," she said.

She said her staff and volunteers have resorted to wearing winter jackets with the church's name emblazoned on the back in the hope that criminals will give them a pass.

"We just hope that people recognize us as being people in the community who are helping them," said Cole, whose agency also provides antiviolence education and holds a yearly vigil in memory of homicide victims. "We kid around and say we are wearing our bulletproof vests."

Authorities said the troopers will concentrate on hot spots of crime.

Cole said that in the ministry's vicinity, at Fifth and State Streets, drug dealers have become more brazen because they don't see a police presence.

"Before, they were lawless. Now, they're just fearless. They don't have any reason to even be discreet," she said.

In his news release, Christie said the presence of the troopers would help bolster law enforcement, as the city and county continue to implement a plan to establish a regional police force.

On Friday, Redd said she was moving forward with the plan, which would dismantle the Camden Police Department and is opposed by city police unions. Suburban towns also have balked at the plan.

Redd's announcement was short on details and offered no timeline for when Camden might enter into an agreement with the county on a regional force. Initially, the force would only police the city.

Facing a $26 million budget deficit, Redd laid off 168 officers - nearly half of the department - in January. She has since rehired more than 100 officers, though according to police union officials the current effective strength of the force is only around 215 because of retirements and other departures.

Christie said in a news release the deployment "will have an immediate impact in curbing violence and crime and protecting the people of Camden."

The new batch of state troopers will join a contingent that has been in the city for nine years. Troopers help to investigate 70 percent of the shootings in the city, and are active with the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, authorities said.

John Williamson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Camden, said "at this point" the additional state troopers would help, but he added that the surge was only a temporary fix.

"In the long run, we need more Camden police officers. With the crime conditions the way they currently are, disbanding the police department and establishing a county police department is not going to work," he said.

He has suggested that the plan would neither provide cost savings - one of the objectives of its backers - nor keep residents safer.

He added: "It's another bad idea by government to remove the safeguards that are already in place and deregulate public safety."