Inquirer Editorial: Camden's new crime fighters
Now comes the test. A new police force in Camden this week began the monumental job of patrolling one of the most dangerous cities in America. It will come under intense scrutiny to determine if it is up for the task.
Now comes the test.
A new police force in Camden this week began the monumental job of patrolling one of the most dangerous cities in America. It will come under intense scrutiny to determine if it is up for the task.
The Camden County Police Department Metro Division replaces the nearly 184-year-old city Police Department, which was abolished under a controversial plan that took more than two years to implement. Supporters, including Gov. Christie, have hailed the new force as the best way to improve public safety in the impoverished city of 79,000.
Once fully staffed, the new force will have 400 officers, significantly more than the largely ineffective force of about 300 it has replaced. To fund the force, the city will pay the county $62 million and the state is putting up $10 million in start-up costs. City, county, and state officials must ensure adequate funding is secured to sustain the force in subsequent years.
The Metro Division won't be the ambitious countywide unit that was initially proposed. That's because no other municipalities besides Camden have signed on so far. But that could change if the new force can deliver on the high expectations for it.
After experiencing 67 murders in 2012, the city's deadliest year on record, many Camden residents welcome the new police force. Already, there have been promising signs, including foot patrols seen in some parts of the city for the first time in years.
Since a batch of the new officers began patrols in Parkside, Police Chief Scott Thomson said, drug corners have been shut down and no gunshots were recorded in the last month - a rarity for that community.
Whether the new force can replicate such results when it eventually begins patrolling Camden's higher-crime areas is the question. Every effort must be made to ensure there is no lapse in police protection for city residents.
With proper training and better leadership than the old police force had, the new officers will get a chance to prove whether they are up to the job. If they are successful, it could prove to be a watershed moment for Camden, which for too long has been plagued by violent crime, mostly linked to illegal drugs.
Adding to the high hopes for Camden's future was this week's agreement by the city school board to a state takeover. Mayor Dana L. Redd and county freeholders deserve credit for risking their popularity with voters to take bold steps to produce a more livable city.
Breaking up the old Police Department has left deep wounds. Former officers saw creation of the new force as simply a vehicle to bust their union and rehire a fraction of them at lower wages. Even if that's true, more officers could have kept their jobs if the union had agreed to modify costly work rules that hampered police deployment strategies.
But that's history now. The old force is gone, a new age has begun, and the future of not just Camden, but the entire county, will be affected as a result. Any increase in crime will be a failure.