I was born and raised in the City of Camden. I went to school here, I made my career here, and I started a family here. I have seen every minute of the last 49 years in this city, but I have never seen anything like what is happening here today.
In 1980, the year I turned twelve years old, the 14,259 total crimes reported in the City was one of the highest sums on record for a city of 100,000. I grew up in a community that was fundamentally unsafe, and there was very little anyone seemed to be doing to change it. In 2012, someone in the city I called home was being shot every 32 hours.
When the Camden County Police Department was incorporated and started patrolling the streets in 2013, the focus was not on reducing crime through militarization, but instead on engaging the community, forming trust and creating a bond. Today, the CCPD is a national leader in community policing.
This seismic shift in the orientation of the department’s mission has decimated crime in the city. In 2018, total crime in Camden reached a 50-year low -- the lowest it has been since I was born.
When I was a student in Camden, I spent most days sitting in a decaying school with outdated textbooks. Today’s students sit in the same classrooms, only now they’re surrounded by modern resources, updated facilities, and a renewed focus on their education. Today’s students are graduating at record rates, and the dropout rate has been halved.
In the 2011-2012 academic year, exactly three students graduated college-ready in the entire public-school system in Camden. This year, the district had to set up a college decision-tracking system to keep up with our college-bound students.
Some days, I can’t believe that I stand in the same city that I grew up in. Private and public investment has brought nearly $3 billion to the city, and the economic boom has lifted countless families out of poverty.
Companies like Contemporary Graphics, IPak, ResinTech, EMR, American Water, and so many others, from Fortune 500s to small enterprises, have brought jobs and opportunity to Camden thanks to an incentive program that put Camden on a level playing field with the rest of the region. These companies have created nearly 2,000 jobs with thousands more on the way. Unemployment is at record lows.
In addition, these companies are committed to inclusive prosperity, as more than 40% of them have located their campuses in Camden neighborhoods. In contrast to other cities with similar waterfront exposure, like Jersey City, corporations in Camden have found a diverse and attractive landscape outside the waterfront, locating themselves throughout our community.
Furthermore, this historic investment in Camden could not be achieved without carefully crafted comprehensive policies at New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The foresight and vision by this authority to come up with a plan for distressed cities has paved the way for unprecedented economic growth that is touching thousands of residents who would still be in grip of bone-crushing poverty.
I know some people have been motivated to attack Camden’s progress, to undermine its successes, and threaten the foundation atop which everything in the last seven years has been built. I’m continually disappointed by some people acting at the highest levels of state government to look at the seeds planted in Camden with an axe in their hands instead of fertilizer.
In recent days I have read reports of two companies that have chosen not to come to Camden for fear of the hostilities emanating from Trenton. It saddens me to think that they are not alone, that the residents of Camden, the people who have waited a generation for this kind of attention to, and investment in, their communities, are losing jobs and opportunity for the sake of political brinksmanship.
The progress in Camden is unlike anything I ever could have imagined when I was a kid in that house on River Road. But seeking progress is a slow and patient endeavor. Destruction, on the other hand, could be wrought in seconds. If Camden is abandoned now, it won’t be businessmen who are punished, it will be the residents of Camden.
That’s why we must continue forward -- we don’t have 50 more years to wait for another opportunity.