CAMDEN, NJ — The first three years of the decade in Camden saw a spike in violent crime.
The number of murders in 2012 was 67 — the most ever in the city and a surge of 20 more than the year before.
There was a need for change and in 2013 the county took control of the police department. Still, results didn’t come overnight. By 2014, the city earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous in the country.
Fast-forward to 2020 and city officials recently boasted a notable improvement— 42% less violent crimes since 2012.
But a bigger and similar picture could be drawn about the overall crime rate in the last decade.
Since 2010, the city has had a roughly 41% reduction among the seven major categories — murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, and larceny.
“As far as the change that has taken place, the number one difference is resources,” Camden County Police Chief Joe Wysocki told TAPinto Camden. “Cops count and police matter, so by almost doubling the amount of officers on the street that has given us a much larger footprint to focus on community engagement and creating a dialogue with residents that has been missing for decades in the city.”
Source: Uniform Crime Reports — New Jersey State Attorney General
PD changes hands
In 2013, the city of Camden disbanded its 140+ year police force and formed a new department with the county.
In the immediate, the shift meant the hiring of more officers, and thus a heavier presence in local neighborhoods. That year the force went from 268 officers to 418.
Today, that figure rounds out at about the same.
“When we dismantled the existing department and worked with Gov. Chris Christie, President [of the New Jersey Senate] Steve Sweeney, and Mayor Dana Redd, it was a matter of knowing we needed to change tactics,” said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli. “At the time there were reports saying we were worse than some Third World Countries.
“Today residents feel much safer and recognize that our officers aim to act as guardians and not warriors,” he added.
In the last year, the department promoted a new Chief of Police following the retirement of Chief Scott Thomson, who held the post since 2008. The Camden County PD has also adopted new “use of force” guidelines and has continued to impose strategies surrounding community policing, that have been touted nationally — including in 2015 by President Barrack Obama.
“It’s a combination of crime prevention, working with residents, using technology effectively, and exercising best practices,” added Cappelli. “Over the past year we had the New Orleans Police Department come to observe how we’ve utilized tech, since we’ve done something that’s helmed and should be duplicated in other urban areas.”
Wysocki noted that the change in culture is evident in police officer’s walking their beats and building trust within the city’s nineteen neighborhoods.
Sean Brown, an active community member, agreed that Camden is safer but with a caveat.
“I believe it's better but only because the economy across the nation is getting better,” said Brown, a resident of Fairview in southern Camden for the past eight years. “Yes, there are more police officers walking the streets. However, until the city and this nation get a grip on the impact of drug addiction, including the selling of drugs in open-air markets, I don't think anyone in Camden or the region can be truly safe.”
As the Camden County Police Department moves forward, Wysocki added, it will continue to bridge the gap with locals by working with civic leaders, clergy, schools and stakeholders.
“We didn’t arrive at a 50-year-low in crime by accident, but we know we have a lot more work to do,” he said.
Other crime trends
Camden tallied 3,305 total crimes in 2019 compared to 10,724, during the first year it has on record in 1974 — 69% less. The most crimes recorded was in 1991: 14,684. From 2010 to 2020, rape figures have remained steady. Seventy-three rapes were reported in 2010 and 67 in 2019, representing an 8% decrease.
That figure peaked in 2016 with 88. Auto thefts was the only category that saw an increase with 537 reported in 2019 — 3% more than the 522 reported in 2010.
In 2019, there were nearly 2,300 fewer crimes than 2010 and the least amount of crimes reported overall.
As for non-major crimes, there were 81 non-fatal shooting incidents reported in 2019, compared to 172 in 2012.