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Will Rebooting the Camden P.D. Make Things Safer?

Freeholder Louis Cappelli says that spillover from the most dangerous city in America is Collingswood's biggest problem. Veteran officers say the plan is a union-busting sham.

Headlines across the country scream the worst—but then, that’s to be expected when one of the most dangerous cities in America decides to lay off its entire police force.

The recently announced plan to reshape the Camden City police force within the metro arm of a county-wide law enforcement division represents the collision of several intensifying concerns.

  • The municipal budget process that links state aid to a fewer than 2 percent annual cost increase.
  • The escalating murder rate of the city, which is approaching a record figure with more than a quarter-year to go.
  • The spillover effect of violent crime into inner-ring suburban towns that are facing the same budget cap pressures in a down economy.

There are no other county-wide departments in the state of New Jersey, and there is no bigger challenge facing what will be its first.

‘They have no place else to go but here’

Joseph T. Abbate, Chief of the Oaklyn Police department, said he’s against the idea of a metro police force, and couldn’t even begin to speculate about the adverse effects of dissolving the Camden City police department on those towns bordering the city.

“They have drugs, they have gangs that have no place else to go but out here,” Abbate said. “There’s gang leaders and drug leaders that don’t even live in the city any more.

"They move out here around us, and they go to work like you and I would go to work, and then they come home where it’s peaceful and they can be sort of separate from the problem.”

Abbate said he disagrees with the policing plan for Camden, and not just because dispatching officers from call to call does not afford them the time to address systemic issues or build relationships with neighborhood leaders. Without a crackdown on ordinance violations for blight issues like trash, high weeds, and junked vehicles, the community itself crumbles, he said.

“They need to tear down those drug houses, those dilapidated eyesores, the guys with four junked vehicles on their property,” Abbate said.

“Changing this police force is not the one thing that’s going to make a difference. They need to do four, five, maybe ten different things all at the same time to try to fix Camden.

“We wish them the best, we hope it works, but laying off dedicated officers and cutting their salaries is nothing but union-busting,” he said.

‘Policing they haven’t seen in decades’

Freeholder Louis Cappelli, a lifelong Collingswood resident, agrees with Abbate that “the biggest crime problem Collingswood has always had is a spillover of crime from Camden City.

“The last year we’ve had home invasions in Cherry Hill, Gloucester Township, and it’s gang-related because gang members live in the suburbs,” Cappelli said. “What’s good for Camden City is good for Camden County.”

Without changes, Cappelli said, Camden City simply cannot afford to maintain its current collective bargaining agreement.

“After decades of negotiation with many mayors, not including Mayor Redd, Camden has given the city away to the FOP,” Cappelli said.

Under a metro police force, he said, “Camden will have police officers walking the beat, riding bicycles; policing they haven’t seen in decades,” because the lowered cost of a new contract will afford “more efficient work rules.”

“I truly believe that the county model will be the model of New Jersey,” Cappelli said. “We have 37 municipalities and 35 police chiefs in Camden County. The cost of providing 35 chiefs and the accompanying captains and lieutenants is excessive.”

Good-faith negotiations?

But Camden F.O.P. president John Williamson said that every critical concession the union made in its latest negotiations was brushed off as insufficient.

At a rally Saturday, Williamson said the demands to which the Camden City police agreed included eliminating the daytime shift differential (a hazard-pay increase typically given to officers working overnight shifts); eliminating longevity (changing and expanding the pay scale so it would take longer for an officer to max out his salary and pension), and increasing the amount officers contribute to their benefit copays.

None of it mattered at the table, he said, and the same tactics are likely to be employed elsewhere, too.

“The same way they’re trying to force the city of Camden into this, they will try to force other [communities] into this,” Williamson said. “If [the metro division will be] compartmentalized to Camden, why is its headquarters going to be in Blackwood?”

Jose Cordero, a police consultant who is one of the architects of the new metro police division, says that the concessions made by the Camden police department wouldn’t have been enough in the final estimation.

“Within the constraints of the existing rules and regulations and contracts, the challenges remain that we couldn’t make all the changes that were needed,” Cordero said.

Starting over “affords an opportunity to create an organization that is reflective of today’s economic realities and policing efforts in Camden,” he said.

Cordero said that the issues at work in the labor negotiations are tied less to wage scales and more to “the flexibility to provide the citizens of Camden with the services they need and the results they want.”

“When we cannot assign more officers to a gang or drug unit to combat increasing violence, there’s a cost,” Cordero said. “A chief shouldn’t have to make a decision to fight crime based on raising costs.

"The organizational design has to be reflective of the public safety reality,” he said.

A new policing infrastructure would allow the county “to keep our fingers on the pulse of what Camden residents want to see change,” Cordero said, facilitating greater communication and intelligence-sharing with neighboring police forces in a more cooperative environment.

“It really is an opportunity to look at the problems and design,” he said.

'We were set up to fail'

Retired Patrolman Greg Young, a 19-year veteran of the Camden Police Department, said, however, that the current policing strategy in Camden City was also designed by Cordero.

“The plan currently in place right now came from Cordero,” Young said. It was intended “to get your numbers up by stopping taking reports.”

Young and retired Patrolmen Jose Morales and Efran Cortez, who served 19 and 18 years on the Camden P.D., respectively, say they believe the strategies that Cordero implemented years ago were designed to fail so that the union could more easily be broken.

“Back in 2009 we had patrol, supplemental, K-9, we even had a couple horses,” Cortez said. “All that was stopped because it was working.”

The focus on case numbers prevented police from making their own decisions about where to patrol and at what time, he said, giving full control of resource deployment to an "eye in the sky" overseer.

“You pull a car over, that’s a case number,” Cortez said. “You run all four people in the car, each one’s a case number,” he said. “You go to lunch, take a piss, there’s a case number.”

The three described a mission-control-led, micromanaging environment in which they were ordered to engage people for minor infractions like loitering and smoking, and ignore calls for aid if it meant abandoning their assigned posts, even if nothing was happening there.

“How else can you justify 70 officers working a concert [at the Susquehanna Bank Center]?” Morales asked. “That leaves maybe 12 offices to patrol the city."

“If the department has a contract with you, that has more importance than the people who live here?” Cortez said.

Patrick Snoke August 13, 2012 at 11:54 AM
I don't know much about police force tactics and what is effective policing but area I certainly agree with Capelli is the structural overhead of our county. 37 municipalities in such a small area is significant regardless of density. I think the same or more officers will be needed to patrol the region but the overhead of operating the police force should be lower. The same applies to other branches of local municipal government- the operations in borough hall, public works, etc. A plan to consolidate our municipalities throughout the state was put forth by Corzine years ago and seemed to fade in the financial crisis/recession and municipal resistance. I believe it is picking up momentum again. Maybe it is a pipe dream which will be squashed by elected officials acting to retain power rather than acting in the best interest of their constituency. I hope we realize as a whole that out little fiefdoms are inefficient and has been a large factor of our tax increases over the years.
Suzanne Cloud August 13, 2012 at 12:06 PM
I agree that the proposal is union-busting and is extremely dangerous for Camden and the surrounding communities. Downsizing a police force leads to better crime fighting? What kind of fantasy land is the local and state government living in? This kind of magical thinking is exactly the way the Republicans preach reforming all sorts of things: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Education...it all adds up to cutting the budget until the services for the public good are strangled in the bathtub while the wealthy live in gated communities with private guards.
Jolly Roger August 13, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Where is Capelli's evidence that those Cherry Hill and Gloucester Twp. incidents are related to gang violence in Camden?
Nancy Webster August 13, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Excellent Article! Check this out: http://www.facebook.com/SaveCamdenPolice
Mike King August 13, 2012 at 02:59 PM
I am not a resident in Camden, but I am a teacher there. Before this change happens, I want to thank the current Camden Police force for your hard work from Sept 2010 till now. I couldn't have done it without you. Since my students were housed in 2 separate buildings, I was driving back and forth at least twice a day - thru neighborhoods, alleyways, and lots of intersections with interminable redlights. As I took notice of the unemployed folks hanging around on those street corners, I know they were also taking notice of me. I gave thanks everyday when you cruised by me in the streets, or parked at the intersections - you know the ones I mean. I know lots of school employees feel the same. You deserve better.
Joseph Forrest August 13, 2012 at 05:56 PM
The answer: No! The reality noted in this article is true - Camden gangs and drug lords are now spreading outward and basing their operations in the surrounding areas. It was/is foolish for anyone to think that this would never happen. Living in Collingswood, the hood rats stand out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately, that doesnt seem to deter them from conducting their business in the suburbs. Vigilance, not complacency, will help keep a lid on the outlying suburbs. If I learned anything living/working in Camden, it's this: the roaches don't like attention. Shine a light, make a phone call, give a concerned stare...but do SOMETHING! One of the reasons Camden is a cesspool is that 99% of the residents do not care, and they're a part of the problem in some way. Don't be fooled by the Camden County smoke and mirrors - Camden county politics are always behind the scenes pulling the strings. These are the same people that PROMISED safety and normalcy in the midst of laying off over 100 officers, the first time around. What a joke. Every sentence out of their mouth is baseless and illogical. Yet they somehow find a way to "sell" it to normal and intelligent people. WAKE UP!
Ed B August 13, 2012 at 07:25 PM
The Camden police deserve better but do not want it...This is what they know, love, and honor as their sacred duty to the public to protect and serve...Its bullshit the way these politicians feel they can just jockey things around to see how this helps then reverse this then & before you know it back to square one. Why the hell are we allowing this mayor and her Possy to continue down this particular path...We ALL know we need smaller government already...Wasnt it enough to realize the officers layed off around a year or so ago were missed and needed...Thankful for the ones that returned....cant imagine what was given up by letting veterans go elsewhere, Now you expect to hire rent a cops to give you what a veteran Police officer gave you??? This is rediculous on the most basic level what JACKASS is @ the head of this bus...enough is enough!
Ed B August 13, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Oh...To answer the question. Absolutely NOT.
Loretka August 13, 2012 at 07:35 PM
How is a County force better for Camden? Will county taxes be taking over the cost of the county police force policing Camden? Will the City of Camden still pay the Camden police officers that are kept on the force, or do they become part of the County Police Force? Somehow I think that sooner or later the cost of the police force in the City of Camden will cause county taxes to go up and thereby be covered by the taxpayers living in the county but not in the city.
Ed B August 13, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Ahhh...this is where we can all rest asure that THEY have this area covered. Let us not worry about who is going to pay who...let us political hacks take care of that for you.
Gary B August 13, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Ed B, maybe there were some valid points you made, however they are lost because your use of profanity. Can you please repost your point by cleaning it up, thanks.
Anne Carroll August 13, 2012 at 09:44 PM
I've worked on both sides of the labor/management conflict. Neither side presents a pretty picture. Neither side wants to give an inch. [Kind of like congress these days.] The situation in Camden is heartbreaking. Not everyone living in Camden is evil or uninterested in making their city a better place to live. Sure, there are bad guys living there, but there are also good people. Good people with children who struggle each day to just make it through the day. Sadly, I believe the people who are supposed to be our leaders (public and civic) are only looking out for their own welfare. While Camden remains in crises mode, so will we, along with our surrounding communities. We've witnessed the over-flow of bad stuff/people from Camden into Collingswood. Not to be a Pollyanna, but can't some of us in Collingswood and surrounding towns do something, anything, to give Camden a leg up? We can't depend on Camden's leaders (or alas, our own leaders) to do the right thing. Camden and its misery is also Collingswood's misery. This misery is just not gonna go away until we citizens gets involved in cleaning up politics. We in Collingswood cannot live our lives in a bubble untouched by what's happening to our neighbors. When bad stuff/people from Camden overflow into Collingswood, lots of folks howl in protest. Howling ain't gonna work. Action works. Citizens need to get involved in politics. Period.
Ed B August 14, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Sorry Gary B. if you were offended...I thought I did a pretty good job considering what I had erased 3 times prior. With All DUE respect it is this kind of "Pussification" of America that has us on our heels, Really, Jackass is the ONLY thing you have to comment on...The point is there wether or NOT the verbage is subpar, you can choose to read it or Don't. Anyway...Rally today at 4:00 to support the brave men & women of the Camden City Police...Go Gettem!
Future Old Angry Italian Guy August 14, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Abate argument seems logical. There are many issues surrounding Camden's violence. The FOP is not the only reason. Unfortunately, politicians will never acknowledge that parental control and the inner city culture plays the significant role. Take the public school system: teachers are the scapegoats. When actually, parents need to be held responsible for any student failure and/or violence. However, our "leaders" will never state this fact. What's happening in Camden is like pulling out a weed. If you snip off a few of the top pieces, the weed will grow back. However, if you take out the weed by the root, it will be less likely to return.
Ed B August 14, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Very well put. However, as was in the past & is in the present, parents are not taking accountability. Respectfully, we need to take a more drastic approach, perhaps decreasing tax deductions for dependents not at a certain proficiency level , docking public assistance if enrolled. By the same token, the Curriculum needs to factor in this cultural diversity if they expect to see improvement and be proactive not reactive in finding a way to reach these targets. Perfect example of Crazy...Keep doing the same thing expecting different results.
Gary B August 14, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Ed B, first, try and grasp the English language instead of spouting off like a 15 year old teenage brat. Communication is always the point when YOU chose to post something on media. Grasp the basics Ed B, it's the least of what's expected out of children, you should have no problem as an adult leading by example. I'd like to comment about the topic but I refuse to engage dialogue of the topic with someone who is going to be irate. Name calling and vulgar language is low rent.
Ed B August 14, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Gary...not to engage in such back and forth nonsense,but I do have a grasp of the English language, thank you, I chose what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, plain and simple...doesn't mean you have to like it...not interested in your status in society...low rent or otherwise.
Mike King August 14, 2012 at 08:03 PM
The annoying and time consuming truth about Camden is that you can't paint any picture with broad strokes. For example, it is wrong to think Camden parents aren' t struggling to get control of their children. In many cases, parents and teachers and christian organizations are engaged in battles at a grassroots level to save one kid. However, drug dealers and prostitution are powerful opponents and they are heavily funded. I'm NOT advocating more funding for education. More involvement at the grassroots level is whats needed. These kids want what all kids want - a commitment from responsible adults who care what happens to them. Camden police get this. It will take years for outsiders to get a grasp on whats what in Camden and I'm afraid some of the good people will get tossed out with the bad as they figure it out.
Jolly Roger August 15, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Collingswood residents don't fool yourselves. Collingswood will be among the first, if not the first suburban town to fall to the county police plan. Norcross pulls Capelli's strings who in turn pulls Maley's strings. Capelli has already been a part of several failed county plans like the Pennsauken Mart and private jail so you can rest assured he will ramrod this police plan through even though nobUody wants it. This whole thing is all being done in the name of King George so he can secure his precious Cooper Hospital and keep people from going to the new Virtua Voorhees.
Anne Carroll August 15, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Well said, Suzanne!
Gary B August 15, 2012 at 04:37 PM
'Stupid is as stupid does'
Jolly Roger August 15, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Ahhh the old liberal battle cry of the "something must be done" standard comment without actually making any suggestions. Plus your comments truly show you have no clue what Camden actually is.
Jolly Roger August 15, 2012 at 09:36 PM
You say Republicans, but yet the illustrious Camden County Dumbacrats led by King George Norcross and the mouthpiece Collingswood's own Lou Capelli, Jr. are spearheading this. Christie, another ignoramus, only approves of the idea and that's only because he owes the election to Norcross because he purposely fell asleep at the switch on Corzine's campaign due to personal issues. So now Christie feels indebted to King George. Why do you think Christie's corruption investigation into Norcross suddenly vanished? But don't fool yourself, anything messed up in Camden County can be attributed to DEMOCRAT corruption.
One road town August 18, 2012 at 03:12 AM
...and on another note, thank GOD that all are safe at the HOC in the C building after suffering TWO acts of arson tonight. The 8th floor and 3rd floor so far are suspect. Wake up Collingswood, wake up. Hopefully the PD can apprehend those who committed the acts in the next moments as to get the entire C buildings population out from the rain and back in their homes.

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