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Crime-Ridden Town Struggling After Half of Police Force Gets Laid Off

Crime-Ridden Town Struggling After Half of Police Force Gets Laid Off

A Camden Police Department officer patrols along Broadway in Camden on Thursday, 2 December 2010. The state has approved a plan to lay off over 300 public workers in Camden, including about half of the police department.

The Star-Leger via YellowBrix

January 19, 2011

CAMDEN — If you get into a car accident in Camden, the city’s chief of police has this advice: Don’t bother calling the cops unless there are injuries or blocked traffic. Likewise, don’t call about vandalism. Or minor thefts.

With the city’s police force cut almost in half by layoffs, Chief Scott Thomson said his department no longer has the manpower to respond to such calls. Not in Camden, which has struggled with graver problems like homicide, gun violence and drug dealing.

Thanks to the city’s budget crisis, 168 officers — almost almost every one hired since 1998 — were shown the door today. That leaves about 200 officers to police one of the country’s poorest and most dangerous cities.

“We have eliminated clerical functions, we have eliminated virtually all of our administrative functions,” Thomson said. “Look, this is not going to be easy, we understand that. But again, the mission will be maintained and we will be able to provide public safety for our people.”

Other police agencies around the state have cut back, but nowhere have cuts been as deep as in Camden.

“I’ve never heard of a layoff of this proportion,” said Rutgers Police Institute Executive Director Wayne Fisher.

Mayor Dana Redd and the police union held a last-ditch meeting Monday night but failed to reach an agreement.

“Instead of protecting and serving the city, the residents of Camden, they’re choosing to protect their high salaries,” Redd said. She said union concessions could still bring back 100 officers, but didn’t provide details.

The Fraternal Order of Police said the deal would have included a 20 percent pay cut. Union officials said they were open to wage freezes and furlough days.

“To say the union isn’t bringing anything to the table is just not right,” said Ed Brannigan, president of the state union. “But there’s only so much you can give. How much blood do you have?”

Cuts to the police department were the largest chunk of the city’s layoff plan, and one-sixth of the city’s public workers were axed today. That included 67 firefighters and 100 non-uniformed employees such as clerks.

“I’ve dreaded this day,” City Council President Frank Moran said. “We’ve looked under every rock, turned over every stone, to really look at measures that would save as many jobs as possible.”

Camden has a $26.5 million deficit and is expecting to collect only $21 million in local tax revenue for a $138 million budget. The state is already providing Camden $69 million in financial aid for struggling towns, and the State Police have a regular presence in the city. Gov. Chris Christie last month warned Camden shouldn’t expect any more help, saying, “We are not going to have the taxpayers of New Jersey be an open checkbook.”

Advertisements run by the police union say Camden may become a “living hell.” One flier shows a robber pointing a handgun at a cowering store clerk under the title “Welcome to Camden.”

Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk is not concerned about basic patrols because a restructuring of the police department is pushing more officers to the street. The problem is the behind-the-scenes work that lead to indictments and convictions, he said.

“It’s really the follow-up after arrests and the longer-term investigations that are going to suffer,” he said. The prosecutor’s office also faces cutbacks, submitting a plan to the Civil Service Commission that would eliminate 68 employees, including 26 investigators and 18 assistant prosecutors.

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