I live in Camden, where the police department was disbanded and rebuilt. Here's what you need to know about our police force and how it's impacted the people who live here.
Camden County police officers - part of a new force created after the original force was disbanded - patrolled in 2017.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP via Getty Images
Dr. Stephen Danley is a graduate director of MS / PhD in Public Affairs and Community Development at Rutgers University-Camden.
He is based in Camden, is a Marshall Fellow, a Oxford and Penn graduate and author of "A Neighborhood Policy of Last Instance: Post-Katrina New Orleans and the Right to the City".
The Camden police department was initially disbanded after austerity measures, but a new force was created to reinforce police work and counteract the austerity measures.
In 2013, the number of police officers grew - and the squad became much whiter; Excessive violence has increased.
Things started to change in 2015 after news of police issues, the growing Black Lives Matter movement, and a de-escalation mentoring program was released.
Although the new force has improved after continued efforts by local activists and the NAACP, it is still a complex story.
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Amid the mourning for lost lives and the protest against police violence, activists have taken up a collective call: Defund the police. And in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, the city council listened and committed to dismantling the police department.
Courtesy of Stephen Danley
And so my eyes turned to my house in Camden, New Jersey, where the Camden City Police Department was dissolved in 2012. When the first wave of media hit the city, it told a simple story: the police were dissolved and crime decreased.
Only it's not that easy. In this narrative, it is lost that police violence increased after the switch - and it was community watchdogs that put pressure on the new force to reduce such violence.
In many ways, the decision to disband the Camden police began years earlier when Governor Chris Christie cut local aid to cities in New Jersey.
The cuts triggered a crisis. It was worse in Camden, where the city lost $ 59 million in aid. Services have been cut. The police were cut open. And Camden heartbreakingly lost his last library.
In other cities in New Jersey, the cuts and the crisis were not that steep, but they were painful. Most saw crimes rising.
In the shadow of this crisis, the Camden City Police Department was dissolved - not to reduce police work in the city, but to increase it and counter the austerity measures that forced the police to dismantle it.
Against a large coalition of municipalities, the residents collected signatures to put the topic on the ballot. The mayor brought the matter to court and won an injunction to prevent the matter from being voted on. The New Jersey Supreme Court later ruled that the injunction was illegal, but it took years for the force to be disbanded.
What happened next remains the most misunderstood aspect of Camden's reform.
A new police force was set up and crime stopped in the years after the troops were dissolved.
However, these declines were reflected in declines in partner cities, which had also suffered from the savings crisis. According to the FBI's Universal Crime Data, Camden's violent crime decreased by 23% from 2012 to 2018 and non-violent crime by 48%. In Newark, the number of violent crimes decreased by 25%, while the number of non-violent crimes decreased by 40%. In Jersey City, Trenton and Paterson, crime fell, if not quite as dramatically. Among the sister cities in New Jersey, only Elizabeth did not experience a sharp drop in crime.
In other words, the decline in crime claimed by the new force is largely a reversal of previous levels of crime. When the crime fell in Camden, it fell elsewhere.
As the saying goes: there are lies, damned lies and crime statistics.
Then more police came - and more police violence (2013-2014).
The Camden City Police Department was dissolved with the express aim of bringing more police to the streets of Camden, New Jersey. And that is exactly what the new force did - in 2013 the number of police officers in Camden rose from 268 to 418, became much whiter and supported the monitoring of broken windows.
Monitoring broken windows is characterized by the strict enforcement of small crimes to show that larger crimes are not tolerated. The first year of the new subpoena was increased because your vehicle was not illuminated or reflected (421%) and the car windows were tinted (381%). The strangest is the request to ride a bike without a bell or a light shot from 3 to 339. The new force collapsed.
Minor violations, such as cycling without a bell, increased - which ignited the community.
This is a recipe for more police violence. Stopping residents for minor violations ignites communities and offers more opportunities for violence. And that's exactly what happened in Camden. A resident told me: "We were all suspects with the new force." Unfortunately - but predictably - excessive violent complaints increased in the city.
Gradually the situation changed to more police and less police violence (2015-2020).
Fortunately, things started to change in 2015. Local NAACP, led by Colandus "Kelly" Francis and Darnell Hardwick, had spent years asking for public records to form the basis for local media coverage on issues such as changing the racial makeup of the armed forces, high police turnover , to create complaints and more.
At the same time, residents who expressed their own concerns were supported by the national Black Lives Matter movement, which provided language and support to activists after the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice.
Protesters die-in to protest a grand jury's decision not to indict a cop who was involved in Eric Garner's death in New York City on December 5, 2014.
Getty Images / Andrew Burton
In 2015, the Metro Police Department launched a de-escalation mentoring program and began to revise its own guidelines on the use of violence. The department began implementing best practices for reducing violence and violence, culminating in a 2019 directive that included a clause that requires an official to intervene if another official uses inappropriate force.
Shortly afterwards, the Force Report from NJ.com showed that the force declined in the last year of its study (2012-2016). In the years after 2014, there were excessive violent complaints. These strategies seem to be working - not as a panacea for eliminating crime, but as an important means of limiting police violence.
The Camden story is complicated.
Once a police force is dissolved, there is tremendous political pressure to declare the move successful - so much so that officials are ready to get to the bottom of crime statistics if it means they can appreciate the decline in crime in a city . The creation of a new force exposes the new force and local politicians to criticism and political pressure.
Crime in Camden and other New Jersey cities increased during a savings crisis in the years before the Camden City Police Department was dissolved. When the crime in Camden fell away, it fell away elsewhere - it is difficult to attribute this waste to the new force. Worse, in the early years of the Metro police, there was more police and police violence.
But the story doesn't end there.
Ongoing efforts by local NAACP highlighted these struggles, and local activists supported by the national Black Lives Matter movement continued to urge the new force to become less violent. Over time, the new force began to listen, which reduced the use of violence and excessive complaints about violence, perhaps because so much was invested in the new force to become a success.
Victory in Camden does not mean disbanding. It's about collaboration. Camden is an example of what can be achieved when a community is vigilant and a police force is willing to listen and re-examine their own violence.
Dr. Stephen Danley is a graduate director of MS / PhD in Public Affairs and Community Development at Rutgers University-Camden. He is based in Camden, a Marshall fellow, a Oxford and Penn graduate and the author of A Neighborhood Politics of Last Resort: Post-Katrina New Orleans and the Right to the City. You can find him on Twitter @SteveDanley.
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