For a long time, Camden was one of the most dangerous cities in America.
This city faced an epidemic of crime. The police force was crippled by a bloated union contract, low morale and an absentee rate reaching 30%. For some crimes, the force had basically given up responding.
Well leaving Camden in the lurch wasn’t an option. Not responding, as a state, wasn’t an option. Restoring hope to this city has been one of my top priorities as Governor, and that’s why we invested so much in improving education here, and why we’re going to continue working to make things better. But to get the situation on the streets under control, we had to take decisive action.
Working in coalition with county and community leaders, we came up with a plan to fundamentally restructure Camden’s police force.
We shut down the city police force and partnered with Camden County to regionalize it. Instead of a struggling force that only had about 240 officers, we put a new metro division on the streets with 400 officers – and because we got rid of expensive work rules, we did it for pretty much the same budget.
But restructuring the force was just the start. We also changed the culture – and rethought the entire strategy for engaging the community.
We got more cops walking the beat instead of sitting behind desks doing paperwork. Because of that, we cut the average police response time from more than 60 minutes to less than five.
We got officers focused on community outreach – building relationships with community leaders and dialogue with residents. Our new force did meet and greet events at parks and churches and baseball games. They knocked on doors and talked to people one-on-one. And by building up that trust and visibility, we got people more likely to report crime, and to become voices for peace and calm themselves in their neighborhoods.
And after what we saw in Ferguson, I’m convinced this is absolutely something we should be encouraging states to invest in. For communities dealing with a legacy of government neglect, a helping hand is always better than an armored fist. The best way to keep the peace is to build it.
And by bringing in cutting edge technology, we upped our game with the way officers respond to crimes. In Camden’s Real-Time Crime Center, we have civilian analysts working side by side with officers to stay alert 24/7. That team is monitoring more than 120 surveillance cameras across the city and 35 microphones that can instantly map the location of a gunshot. If shots are fired or there’s a 911 call, we have units already on the way.
So these are some of the big changes we made to make community policing work in Camden. And of course there’s a lot more to do. No one thinks our job is anywhere near done. But I’ll tell you this – through all of us working together, we’ve done something incredible.
We’ve started to reclaim the streets. We’ve started to put life back into communities.
Since we brought in these reforms, we’ve had a 22 percent drop in overall violent crime and a 51 percent reduction in homicides.
We’ve reduced incidents of rape by 30 percent.
We’ve cut robberies by 30 percent.
And we’ve cut aggravated assaults by 15 percent.
We have also seen improvement in Newark and Trenton. We deployed State Troopers there to deal with violent crime, and in the first six months of this year non-fatal shootings were down 45 percent. Fatal shootings were down 58 percent. And in Newark, the number of murders was down 18 percent last year compared to the year before.
Kids are playing in the parks again. Businesses are opening. And if you need help, you can count on help arriving.
These are results that no one predicted and everyone said was impossible. We did this because of all the support and partnership from this community. And with continued effort, there’s no reason we can’t continue to make progress.
So here’s what I think. If we can make this work in Camden, we can make this work anywhere in America.