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Supporters of a Camden County police force back Camden chief to lead it

With a crime spike fueling calls for action, supporters of a Camden County police force are backing Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson to lead a "metro" division, which could likely be the entire force.

With a crime spike fueling calls for action, supporters of a Camden County police force are backing Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson to lead a "metro" division, which could likely be the entire force.

"There has been nothing promised, no job offered," Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said Wednesday. "Our thoughts going forward are, he might be the guy to lead this thing. He has the leadership skills necessary to help with this transition."

The county would have to hire Thomson, who was promoted from deputy to chief in 2008. If none of the county's other municipalities joins the force - none has committed to do so - Thomson could be in charge.

Cappelli and other county force supporters called again Wednesday for quick action on the plan. Still under discussion are work rules, salaries, and possible early retirement packages for some veteran officers.

"There is a public safety crisis in Camden," Cappelli said. "The quicker this will happen, the better it will be for residents of the city."

The city has had 48 homicides in 2011, 10 more than at this time last year. Aggravated assaults and burglaries also are up.

Cappelli said he hoped that the county, city, and state would finalize shared services agreements in January and that the force could be in place by the end of the summer.

A resolution is likely to be introduced at a special City Council meeting Tuesday, said Council President Frank Moran. Council would have to abolish the city's existing department.

Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk have called for help for the city police force, which suffered deep cutbacks this year.

Gov. Christie last week ordered more state troopers to patrol Camden, joining those already stationed there. The reinforcements would help officers battle crime, the governor said, as the local officials continue to design a county force.

Advocates say the county force - paid for by the city's budget - would double the number of officers on the city streets to 400 and save money, in part by hiring officers at lesser salaries.

Opponents, including officers and police unions, suggest that the plan would neither provide cost savings nor keep residents safer.

Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney, a consultant brought in by the county, has said cost savings are not guaranteed.

Fraternal Order of Police lodge president John Williamson said union officials recently resumed contract negotiations with the city.

"Obviously, negotiations we were having with the city were a smoke screen," he said, adding that officers have not had a new contract for nearly two years. "This action is geared towards breaking the Camden police contract," presenting it "under the guise of public safety."

Suburban towns have resisted the idea of joining a county force. At this point, the metro division "is the county force," Cappelli said.

If suburban towns decide to join the force, he said, the county would decide whether to hire someone to run it.

Thomson said leading the metro division would be an extension of his current job.

"This is a city that I have put my life on the line for almost every day for 18 years," he said. "God willing, I'd be doing this for many more years to come. . . . This is where my heart is."

Last January, Redd laid off 168 officers, nearly half of the force. She has since rehired more than 100, though up to 50 have left or plan to leave soon, union officials have said.

Camden now has about 260 officers on its rolls, though its effective strength is about 215, union officials say.

Under the county proposal, current city officers, as well as those previously laid off, would be given consideration for the new positions, which would come at lesser salaries, officials said. Qualified officers who live in the city would be given top priority.