Following through on threats once considered unthinkable, the mayor of Camden, N.J., yesterday laid off almost half the city's Police Department, nearly a third of its firefighters, and more than 100 other workers, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I cannot stress enough that Camden's fiscal realities are not made up,” Mayor Dana Redd said, citing a $26.5 million deficit in the city that has been called one of the nation's most violent.
“We are operating in a culture of disbelief, that on the ninth hour some truckload of cash is going to pull up in the city of Camden.” Redd criticized the unions that represent the 168 police officers and 67 firefighters who were laid off, saying their leadership had refused to submit “meaningful” contractual concessions, stoked fear during negotiations, and never let members vote on cost-saving ideas. Police officers lined a street with a row of boots they would no longer need. Firefighters, some with family members in tow, applauded. “The [police] chief's favorite saying is, 'We're going to put as many boots on the street as possible,' ” said Bob Thomas, laid off after 10 years as a police officer and now unsure how he can afford care for his developmentally disabled son. “Here's your boots. They're on the street, and there's no one in them.” In a sign of how poor the city of 79,000 is, Camden residents who saw the boots stopped to see if they were being given away.