It’s considered one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, but President Obama is praising Camden, New Jersey for one reason – its relationship between the police force and the community.
NJ.com reported that the president called the impoverished city a “symbol of promise for the nation” during recent remarks he made while on a trip to Camden. While the city still battles its reputation as the most violent city in New Jersey, the president offered praise to the Camden County Police Department for the efforts they are making to bridge the gap between police officers and the community.
Camden has had the biggest decline in violent crime in the state, but still remains the most violent city in New Jersey. The President pointed out all of the progress the city has made to curb crime and work with the community, which he said made Camden a model for other cities.
Part of the effort to improve relations has seen police officers out on the street, interacting in the communities they seek to protect. Police officers are no longer just cruising through these areas. They are getting to know the people within the neighborhoods.
The first thing Camden Police Officer Virginia Matias does after driving to the neighborhood where she works is get out of her police cruiser and walk around. This has allowed Officer Matias to get to know some of the people in the community where she works.
“It’s better to be walking around and talking to people than just passing by in the vehicle because you’re not really getting to know anyone if you’re in your vehicle the whole time that you’re patrolling,” Matias says, when talking about the changes.
Louis Tuthill, a Rutgers University criminology professor, is studying the effects community engagement has on the relationship between the police force and the communities in which they serve. He stated that foot patrols allow the officers and community members can build relationships with one another.
“What I found was that for all crimes, generally, the foot patrols decreased crime between about 10 percent and 19 percent, depending on the quarter. [Violent crimes such as] robberies with a firearm had a decrease of 51 percent,” Tuthill stated.
While the long-term effects of these changes may take years to completely understand, statistics are showing these changes have led to a decrease in criminal activity, including violent crime. In 2012, there were 67 murders throughout the city, but last year there were less than half that amount. Residents are also noticing a difference.
Michael Horace, a Camden resident, told NJ.com that he liked having the new police station so close by. “Any fights, gunshots — anything that’s going on — within a matter of seconds they’re right there,” the man said, clearly pleased with the changes to his neighborhood.
Phyllis Perry, a resident of the Cramer Hill neighborhood, has also noticed a difference. “Wherever you walk around, there goes a cop. they’re walking. They’re on bikes. They’re in cars. They’re everywhere,” the longtime resident stated.
But not every resident is certain the changes will last. Virgilio Matias, a Camden resident doesn’t think the police presence will make a difference. “Once those guys start fighting with each other, there ain’t going to be no peace out here,” he said.
Chief of police, Scott Thompson, acknowledged the challenges the police force faces. “We bring in ice cream trucks and put them on the corner,” Thompson said, “And we tell our community cops that when they’re out there walking the beat, to tell everybody, ‘Hey, come and get some free ice cream.’”
Thompson also stated that having more police on the street meant that crime rates would inevitably fall. “It makes it very difficult for the bad folks who like to operate with a sense of anonymity and like to own the streets. They’re now the minority, surrounded by good people.”
The police still have their critics. The ACLU of New Jersey executive director is worried about the increase in arrests and he worries that this could lead to the kind of problematic behavior happening when police arrest citizens in other cities.
“We have serious concerns about the sharp increase in arrests and summons for nonviolent petty offenses. Summons for tinted car windows increased 381 percent to just under 1,000 and disorderly conduct saw a nearly 43 percent increase in one year,” Udi Ofer, the director said. He also discussed how complaints about aggressive force have risen with the number of arrests.
Thompson and his fellow officers say more arrests are par for the course. When there are more officers on the street, they are better able to address the concerns of crime within the community.
See Obama’s full speech to Camden here: