One of the few bright spots over the past week was Camden, NJ where instead of beating protesters the police joined them. Protests in Camden were peaceful and orderly and there was little to no looting. As I wrote last year, Camden disbanded its police force in 2013, nullifying the old union contract, and rebuilt.
Jim Epstein described the situation prior to rebuilding:
Camden’s old city-run police force abused its power and abrogated its duties. It took Camden cops one hour on average to respond to 911 calls, or more than six times the national average. They didn’t show up for work 30 percent of the time, and an inordinate number of Camden police were working desk jobs. A union contract required the city to entice officers with extra pay to get them to accept crime-fighting shifts outside regular business hours. Last year, the city paid $3.5 million in damages to 88 citizens who saw their convictions overturned because of planted evidence, fabricated reports, and other forms of police misconduct.
In 2012, the murder rate in Camden was about five times that of neighboring Philadelphia—and about 18 times the murder rate in New York City.
In May of 2013, however, the entire police department was disbanded nullifying the union contract and an entirely new county police department was put into place.
The old city-run force was rife with cops working desk jobs, which Cordero saw as a waste of money and manpower. He and Thomson hired civilians to replace them and put all uniformed officers on crime fighting duty. Boogaard says she didn’t see a single cop during the first year she lived in the city. “Now I see them all the time and they make friendly conversation.” Pastor Merrill says the old city-run force gave off a “disgruntled” air, and the morale of Metro police is noticeably better. “I want my police to be happy,” he says.
Camden remains a high poverty, high crime place to live but the improvement shows the importance of some fairly simple attitudinal changes–“It’s more of a protect-and-serve approach to dealing with the residents, rather than kicking down doors and locking our way out of the problem,” –and reforms such as restraining the police unions, focusing on violent and property crimes and not using policing as a revenue source.