CAMDEN, NJ — Camden’s 2013 shift from a city force to one run by the county and its deescalation practices have been held up across the country as a model for Minneapolis and other departments dealing with unrest following the murder of George Floyd.
A newly-formed group in the city called The Coalition for Reform and Transformation of Police Departments said Monday that Camden is not an example to follow — citing an array of prevailing issues.
“I could ride through Camden now and I could tell you, I see people shooting up. I see people making transactions. I see prostitution going on and I see cop cars just sitting there,” said an emotional Gary Samuels, a longtime resident.
Samuels, who has been imprisoned and faced issues with crack for over 30 years, said he’s seen opioid addiction for instance treated differently in the city.
During a press conference this morning in front of City Hall, the coalition said what took place in Camden was in fact a takeover, not a disbanding or defunding as has been the call to action for protests throughout the U.S.
The coalition also pointed to a petition and subsequent lawsuit against the Camden City Council over the police takeover. Although a group of city voters was counter-sued by the City Council, the state Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the reorganization of the force was illegal — a decision that came too late as the county force was already operating.
Samuels and other community members gathered advocated for the Camden County Police Department (CCPD) under Chief Joe Wysocki should return the department to city control, create a community group with voting powers to oversee the department and require officers to live in the city.
A year into the department’s restructuring, the city was declared the murder capital of America but between 2012 and 2020, according to the CCPD, violent crime has dropped by 42%. Homicides dropped from 67 in 2012 to 25 in 2019.
After the takeover, the makeup of the police force was approximately half white in a city mostly made up of a black and Latino population. And while downtown and waterfront properties receive much vigilance, according to the coalition, Centerville, Parkside, East Camden and other neighborhoods can often feel neglected.
As far as how the city has been presented on the national stage, Min. Roy Jones said, “The totality of the picture is missing.”
“You got to talk about the cumulative effect of crime on the people living on the street,” he told TAPinto Camden after the press conference. “We face health disparities, economic disparities, political disparities, and crime disparities cumulatively.”
Those gathered Monday emphasized that they were “not anti-police,” but seeking to dispel various notions, including that the community was engaged during the restarting that took place seven years ago.
“Since the advent of the CCPD the city of Camden has made demonstrable and tangible progress in making the city safer by reducing overall violent crime by 42% and homicides by 62%. That also follows a clearance rate for homicides at more than 60% from 16% in 2012 and a 95% decrease in excessive force complaints since 2014," said CCPD spokesman, Dan Keashen in a statement. "There is no question the city is a significantly stronger and safer place since its apex of instability in 2012."
Keashen added that when the takeover took place the community was part of the process.
"That said, there is still much work to do and progress to make going forward, but there is no question that our community is moving in the right direction," he said.