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Camden police, leaders show support for law targeting drug dealers

It's a common occurrence in Camden: Police officers clear out a street corner, only to find the same drug dealers there the next day.

It's a common occurrence in Camden: Police officers clear out a street corner, only to find the same drug dealers there the next day.

On Monday, police and political leaders and city activists threw their support behind a proposed change in state law that would make it easier for authorities to serve drug offenders with restraining orders barring them from certain areas.

Under the amendment to the Drug Offender Restraining Order law, police would be able to get restraining orders electronically from a judge, when authorities request bail. Under current law, authorities must appear before a judge to get an order signed, and then serve a suspect; it is a process that can take days, particularly if a suspect has made bail, amendment supporters said.

Assemblymen Angel Fuentes (D., Camden) and Gilbert "Whip" Wilson (D., Camden), former City Council members sponsoring the amendment, unveiled the proposed changes on Monday at St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral Church in East Camden.

The amendment would follow a protocol similar to that used in domestic violence cases, said Police Chief Scott Thomson, who attended the news conference.

"This law will not only help Camden. It will help Jersey City, Newark, Trenton - all of the urban centers that are plagued with flagrant open-air drug markets," Thomson said.

The bill already gives police the power to arrest those charged with a drug offense or possession of an assault weapon, and served a restraining order, if they come within 500 feet of where they were initially arrested.

State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) has sponsored a similar amendment.

City Council President Frank Moran said he would introduce a resolution soon in support and send it to other cities asking them to back the changes.

St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral Elementary School students and members of the local organizing committee from St. Joseph's/Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP), a faith-based community organization, joined the lawmakers on Monday.

The proposed changes stem from conversations between Thomson and Msgr. Robert McDermott, the CCOP vice chair, and a meeting in March that included CCOP members, more than 100 residents, and lawmakers.

Rosa Ramirez, a longtime CCOP leader, encouraged students to write letters to lawmakers in support and to rally their parents.

"This is for us, and not only us - the whole state of New Jersey," Ramirez told the schoolchildren. "We have to keep this moving."