At Panaderia El Payaso, a bakery and bodega on Federal Street in East Camden, lively Mexican music plays in the background as customers pick out fresh-baked goods from racks in the back of the small store.

Eufracia Trinidad, the small 41-year-old woman at the register, looks up nervously each time someone comes in.

Her front window was pierced by a bullet two weeks ago, and on Tuesday - the day after a fellow bodega owner was shot dead by masked intruders - she was threatened by a group of youths when she tried to stop them from snatching candy.

One of the six warned her: "I have a gun. I can shoot."

"Every day we live in fear," Trinidad, an immigrant from Mexico, said in Spanish last week. "I want to leave already."

Her desire to see her six daughters, ages 6 to 23, obtain an American education is what is holding her back, she said.

But she just doesn't know how much more she can take. The two officers she used to be able to call on now cover other parts of the city. She doesn't bother calling 911.

"They can take what they want, I just don't want them to hurt us," she said.

While the glare has fallen in recent weeks on a spate of serious crimes in Camden - primarily the city's 48 homicides so far this year, including that of popular grocer Miguel Almonte last week - it is the everyday plight of residents such as Trinidad that underscores the precariousness of the situation.

There is a widespread feeling that sharp cutbacks in the ranks of police amid a city budget crunch early this year are to blame. Residents say that. So does the county prosecutor and police union officials.

While more than 100 of the 168 officers let go have been hired back, police union officials say that because of retirements and other departures, the effective strength of the force now is 215, still far below the numbers the department started off the year with.

On Friday, Mayor Dana L. Redd announced that she had signed on to a plan for a county takeover of the city police department, a move that is opposed by the police unions.

And law enforcement sources said New Jersey State Police were set to begin a surge in Camden beginning Monday.

Redd would not discuss the details of the operation, saying only that the state was sending "resources."

"You will see a noticeable difference if you come to Camden on Monday," she said.

Earlier last week, the department transferred members of an undercover tactical narcotics unit, which is part of a larger, federally funded drug task force, to uniformed community police positions to increase police visibility in city streets.

"We hear too often that we can have layoffs to the extent that we did and there'll be no consequences. That is simply not true," said Wayne Fisher, director of the Police Institute at Rutgers University's Newark campus.

He acknowledged that multiple factors play into an increase in crime, including economic conditions, but "when you undertake personnel reductions to the extent that we have, that's a very loud noise among all the sounds that have something to do with crime."

He said reduced staffing means officers are burdened with responding to calls for service. So, fewer officers are available to conduct follow-up investigations, initiate new investigations, or deal with unexpected circumstances such as a rash of burglaries, he said.

With crime in some categories rising - the 48 homicides are 11 more than this time last year - some residents of this city of 77,000 are taking detective work into their own hands.

In September, after she surprised a burglar, an East Camden grandmother spent five hours going door to door polling neighbors to see if they, too, were victims.

"If you don't know what's happening around you, God knows what will happen around you," said the woman, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Yvette, in part due to safety concerns.

She said she found that more than a dozen homes within three blocks had been burglarized, mostly from August into October.

At least one resident was robbed more than once, said Yvette, who has lived on Baird Boulevard for a decade.

Yvette said that she had filed a police report and that other residents told her they had too, but she had not heard of any arrests.

On Saturday, a police spokesman wrote in an e-mail that police had two reports of burglaries around that time.

Yvette said the would-be burglar broke down her back door shortly after midday in September while she was in an upstairs bedroom.

From the top of her stairs, she said, she clapped her hands, stomped her feet, and yelled at the man, scaring him away before he could enter.

"When somebody comes into your house, especially when you're home, it feels like they violated your surroundings. I wasn't scared. I was mad."

Jorge Alameda, who owns La Hacienda bodega on Federal Street, has prepared for strong-arm robberies.

"I keep a few bills and coins in the safe because if I don't have anything, they will demand hidden money and that's when things happen," Alameda said.

But he said he learned another lesson during a robbery in late summer.

A masked man stormed into the store and pointed a handgun at Alameda, whose daughter was a few feet away. Alameda said he turned over $110 in cash. The robber took off in a car with other men, and the group later robbed another store nearby, he said.

Now he doesn't allow his daughter in the store.

As for a police report, he never filed one.

"For what? They already stole the cash."

Contact staff writer Darran
Simon at 856-779-3829 or dsimon@phillynews.com or @darransimon on Twitter.
Staff writer James Osborne contributed to this article.