This Police Department Disbanded in 2012. Violent Crime Has Plummeted

New force focused on walking beats, talking to residents of Camden, NJ
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 10, 2020 12:15 PM CDT
What Happened After This City Disbanded Its Police Department
In this April 15, 2014, photo, the Ben Franklin Bridge and skyline of Philadelphia can be seen as a Camden County Metro police officer walks a beat.   (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

City Council members in Minneapolis have vowed to "dismantle" the city's police department, which would be an unusual—but not entirely unprecedented—move. CNN looks at the experience of Camden, NJ, which disbanded and replaced its police department in 2012 amid budget woes and corruption that was deemed unfixable. It hasn't been an entirely smooth ride for the new Camden County Police Department, which has around 400 officers, including 100 hired from the old police department, but violent crime in the city has dropped by more than 40% over the last seven years, and officers, once widely feared, now host events like block parties, pop-up barbecues, and drive-in movie nights on the street once known as "Heroin Highway."

County official Louis Cappelli says a lot of the improvement is down to "community-oriented policing." When the new department was launched, officers were told to focus on walking beats and introducing themselves to residents. Cappelli says the department has made de-escalation a priority in training. Community leaders including pastor Ojii BaBa Madi say that while Camden still has many problems—and the force is still far less diverse than the community it serves—the city feels safer and a "productive dialogue" with police is now possible. "Us meeting with the community in the absence of crisis really changed the game," Lt. Zsakheim James, who served on the old and new police forces, tells the Philadelphia Inquirer. "There are people who still don't like the police, but there is a level of trust. There are people who believe in us, and believe in their ability to hold us accountable." (More Camden, NJ stories.)

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