Thursday, October 18, 2012

Murders soar in Camden as police disappear

This week, Camden, New Jersey a city of about 77,000 people registered its 53rd homicide, and the city is on pace to shatter the record of 58 set in 1995, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Camden's murder rate was high before the record year in 1995, and poverty touched every neighborhood in the city then, too. The public-school system, like many other impoverished districts, struggled, and despite a healthy economy and major developments and attractions along the waterfront, there still weren't enough well-paying jobs in Camden to support a strong middle class.

Young men continued to turn to drugs to make a living and shot their competition to protect it. Kids looked up to them and replaced them on their corners when they left in body bags or handcuffs.

City residents, according to news accounts from the time, blamed the police as the murder rate rose. Elected officials, in turn, asked Trenton for help, according to the Inquirer.

"The city does not have the means to fight by itself," former Assemblyman Joe Roberts said in 1995. "There are 100 less officers than there were 20 years ago."

Today, Camden has 273 officers, about 70 fewer than it had in 1995. Chief Scott Thomson said he works with fewer than 200 officers a day when sick time and absenteeism are accounted for. What's left, Thomson told the Inquirer, is a depleted force that spends its time reacting to crime instead of preventing it.

Governor Chris Christie cut funding for local police and Camden is feeling the consequences.  Gov. Christie now proposes dismantling the department he throttled. The Camden police department is being replaced with a 400-member regional police department that will be made up of new hires and re-hired members of Camden's current department.

The controversial plan is projected to save money although union officials said that it's an attempt by Christie to break the union once and for all.

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