In Camden, N.J., a drug- and crime-ridden city awash in street violence, police are spending more time these days making arrests for minor offenses such as public drinking, playing loud music, and violating curfew, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. At a crowded corner, officers sometimes arrest as many people as they can – even if half of the charges are for so-called quality-of-life offenses. It is part of a crackdown on crime that began five months ago, when Police Chief Scott Thomson assumed control of a department scrambling to suppress Camden’s rising homicide rate and gang presence.
Some residents and business owners support the enforcement of quality-of-life laws, saying they feel safer. Others say the arrests won’t solve underlying problems; they have criticized the police for diverting much-needed manpower to minor problems when the city is facing a crisis of violence. As of Friday, the city of 75,000 had 48 homicides in 2008, compared with 42 in all of 2007. A police reorganization in August tripled the number of officers on patrol. In some neighborhoods, dozens of cruisers descend at once to deter violence and open-air drug dealing. Thomson believes arrests for quality-of-life offenses allow police to chip away at the drug trade. “We can’t just keep saying, ‘If we lock up the drug dealers, we’ll solve the drug problems,’ ” Thomson said. “If you run around trying to prevent homicides, you’re going to be chasing your tail.” Officers are making 41 percent more arrests for quality-of-life arrests than they used to.