Homicide and other violent crime is down and weapons seizures are up in the first three months of Camden County Police Department (CCPD) operations, reported city officials on Tuesday.
But the bulk of those material improvements have been largely confined to two suburban-border city neighborhoods, Fairview and Parkside, that have benefited from the additional community policing promised by the newly established Camden County Metro Division.
Presenting their findings to the media before a table full of seized weapons, Camden County Police Chief J. Scott Thomson and Camden City Mayor Dana Redd outlined selective data at at press conference on Tuesday.
Violent crime in Parkside was down 67 percent year-over-year in the second quarter of 2013, officials said; Fairview has seen a 54 percent drop in violent crimes during the same period of time.
City-wide, reported homicides have fallen from 21 to 15 year-over-year in the first three months of department operations, officials said. The also CCPD recovered 74 illegal firearms during May 1—July 31, up 76 percent from the 42 recovered during the same period in 2012.
Those statistics only reflect the number of crimes that have occurred in the last 90 days, however, and provide little indication of whether Camden City will see another record-breaking death toll in 2013.
Last year, there were 67 homicides in Camden City, which eclipsed the 58 slain in 1995.
Thomson agreed, saying that the short-term success of the CCPD will not result in an immediate shift in Camden’s violent status quo, but that it represents incremental progress.
“What we’re highlighting is progression,” said Thomson. “People are not going to feel safe overnight. What you’re going to hear from them is, ‘Is this better than what it once was?’ And I think the resounding answer to that is absolutely yes.”
Redd said that the efforts of the CCPD have led to significant changes in the community, and that the lives of city’s residents are slowly beginning to change.
“If you ride around the city you can see the difference, and that difference resides in the children of Camden,” Redd said. “Kids are in the parks and playing in the streets again, there is an impact that is tangible to the city and to our residents.
"From reducing violent crime in Parkside and Fairview, to seeing police officers playing with our youth and being positive role models, I’m confident we will see more improvements as the Metro continues to staff up,” she said.
Rather than targeting more violent areas of the city like Whitman Park or North Camden, Thomson said that reducing gang activity in Parkside and Fairview, "set[s] an example" for the rest of the city.
“Look, we have a finite amount of resources," Thomson said. "If we tried to launch this city-wide we would have an absolutely minimal impact.
“We had to pick two communities that have legitimate problems and also two communities in which we already have a well-founded relationship...and community mobilization that has already occurred prior to the transition," he said.
“We still have operations and very aggressive crime suppression efforts in other communities as well,” Thomson later added.
Redd said that Whitman Park had not been forgotten and that “holistic” measures are being taken to address not only its crime but urban blight conditions. She pointed to a $30 million federal housing grant for which the city had applied to reduce the "housing density" of that neighborhood.
“We are engaged, actively, in a redevelopment planning process with the United Neighbors of Whitman Park and the Housing Authority to apply for choice implementation grant under HUD, under President Obama,” Redd said.
'Broken Windows' Theory
Thomson also discussed policing strategies that he believes have led to a reduction in violent crimes throughout the city.
One example, the “broken windows” theory, suggests that reining in misdemeanor offenses like public urination, intoxication and disturbing the peace, create an environment in which more violent crimes are less likely to occur.
“Generally what we find, and what broken windows has proven, is that the people who are committing the most egregious crimes are also committing the lesser offenses as well," Thomson said.
"That is the time that law enforcement needs to be interacting and engaging with those folks,” he said. "What you generally find is when you enforce the small things, bigger things fall as well.”
Addressing what Thomson called “quality of life issues,” such as traffic violations, led directly to the CCPD upping its weapons seizures.
“Officers, when they get out of their squad cars or they remain on a walking beat, and they speak to a person who lives in that neighborhood...the people who are there are identifying to us who the problem individuals are,” he said
During the press conference, Thomson noted that the success of the CCPD is a result of having the resources the previous department struggled to maintain, such as officer attendance.
“It’s a matter of us having resources—resources that actually come to work,” said Thomson. “Our absentee rate, so far this year, is 4 percent as compared to 30 percent last year.”
Though he did not touch on what has led to such a dramatic shift in attendance, Thomson says that the result of the officers who are showing up for work is what is making progress.
“When you have officers who come to work and do good, proactive community policing, this is the result,” he said.
Thomson's remarks come on the heels of a contentious labor battle waged among the county and the Camden City police union, however.
The establishment of the countywide department came despite the F.O.P. voting it down and various legal challenges that are still pending in state court.