Is Improved Camden Policing Responsible For Big Murder Drop?


In 2012, when Camden, N.J., broke a record for homicides, 21 people were murdered over the summer. This summer, there were six. Shootings are down 43 percent in two years, and violent crime down 22 percent, says the New York Times. It has been 16 months since Camden took the unusual step of eliminating its police force and replacing it with one run by the county. Beleaguered by crime, budget cuts and bad morale, the old force had all but given up responding to some crimes. Avoiding expensive work rules, the new force hired more officers on the same budget: 411, up from 250. It hired civilians to use crime-fighting technology it had never had the staff for. It tightened alliances with federal agencies to remove a large drug ring.

The police changed their culture. Officers moved from desk jobs and squad cars onto walking beats. Chief J. Scott Thomson likens it to a political campaign to overcome years of mistrust. Average response time is now 4.4 minutes, down from more than 60 minutes, and about half the average in many other cities. The number of open-air drug markets has been cut nearly in half. In June and July, the city went 40 days without a homicide — unheard-of in a Camden summer. Still, no one is declaring victory over crime.

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