No, Camden Did Not “Defund” Their Police

There’s this false story going around that Camden, New Jersey, once the most dangerous city in America, became much safer by “defunding the police.” That’s not what happened. In fact, there are far more police officers in Camden today. In this video, our editor explains the real story.

The following is a transcript of the video above:

Hey guys, Jordan here. Hope you’re doing well. I just want to talk to you real quick about this false narrative I keep hearing in various news sources, about how Camden City in New Jersey dismantled its police force and therefore became much safer. All right, now, listen, I’m in New Jersey. I worked in Camden. I know how dangerous it is. I used to have to park several blocks away from where I worked in the federal courthouse and run through the streets to get there without being accosted. I mean, me carrying my laptop, it was like watching somebody return a punt. Seriously in like my loafers and everything, I was just like zigging and zagging like that to just outrun people. It was a bad, bad situation there for a while. In fact, I could tell you of lawyers who got ripped out of their cars and were carjacked and beaten and just left in the street.

And in fact, the way that problem was solved was the judge in that case issued an order for all the lawyers involved in that case, actually a written order to carry in their cars, that said from now on you guys don’t have to stop at stoplights in Camden. And if you get pulled over for running a stoplight, just hand this to the police officer. I mean, that’s how bad Camden was. It was, I believe it was the murder capital in terms of most murders per members of the population. Now there are cities with more murders like Chicago, but those are much bigger cities. Camden’s a relatively small city, only about 75,000 people at any given moment. And it has gotten a lot safer since they dismantled their police force, but that is not telling the whole story.

I saw on the BBC today, and this is what inspired me to do this video, that they’ve got this micro-video out that talks about how Camden is using much more progressive tactics, deescalating situations, instead of this sort of law and order approach they were taking. That’s not what happened. Here’s what happened. Camden City, as distinct from Camden County, Camden City used to have a unionized police force with 270 members. At any given moment, 30% of those guys were not even showing up for work. And so the 270 was really about 180 and it just wasn’t enough to police. And they were also really expensive. They were costing about $180,000 per police officer, and they’d become corrupt. And part of the problem was their union was protecting all their corruption. So you didn’t have enough officers in the first place. The officers you had were too expensive, so you couldn’t hire more. And they become corrupt because our union was protecting them.

And so what wound up happening was the Camden County Board of Freeholders — now the freeholders are like the county commissioners in New Jersey — under Governor Christie at the time, Camden County just said “we can’t have this.” And they completely just dismantled the Camden City police union. And they installed and created their own Camden County police department just to police Camden City. And they hired like a hundred of the city police officers. But they also increased the forces. So now instead of having 270 with only 180 reporting for work, they have 400, and almost all of them report for work.

So it’s not like they’ve reduced the police footprint here. They massively increased the police footprint. Almost basically doubled it, effectively did double it. if you exclude the people who weren’t showing up. So an important part of the story. Yeah, violent crimes was cut in half. But the police force has also doubled.

There’s something else here that you should know about. And I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but it’s something to keep in mind. They also started hiring a lot more people of color to be police officers. And they haven’t released official statistics on it beyond saying that they’ve gone out of their way to do it. And I think it’s significant up in Newark, another New Jersey city that for a long time was overrun with crime, and still pretty much is, they have 85% of their officers are now black or Hispanic. And when we had all these protests recently over the killing out in Minnesota, there weren’t any riots in Newark, and Newark had been known for its rioting for a long time. B There weren’t any riots this time. And the police marched with the protestors. You didn’t see stores being looted in Newark. You didn’t really see all this violence in Newark. I mean, everything was pretty calm and I would not be surprised if it’s because the members of the police department there looked like the members of the community. I think they’re more relatable. I think that maybe they’re more empathetic or at least they’re seen as more empathetic and they’re not seen as being antagonistic in the same way that sort of, you know, the white middleclass police officer from the suburb might be. Again, I’m not saying that’s right or wrong necessarily. You should hire people based on merit. But if the goal is to make a community safer, that’s part of the merit. And so it’s something that you might want to keep in mind where we might want to keep in mind.

I don’t know. There’s not a lot of data, not really any data I can find on it, but it’s, it’s something I’m just throwing out there cause it’s worth noticing and it’s worth discussing. So the point is simply this look, we’re all for safer communities. One of the great racial inequalities that nobody talks about, and it’s kind of befuddling, why is how poor African-Americans are victims of crime at much higher rates, anybody else? And so we should seek to end that inequality. And looking at effective police tactics is very important in that, but we shouldn’t be creating false narratives that by reducing police, which is kind of like what people are saying by “Oh, well, Camden dismantled, its police force. Now it’s much safer.” No, no, no. Camden like basically doubled their effective police force and added a lot of technology by the way, to help those guys out.

But they also are more ethnically diverse now, which I think is not insignificant. And yeah, they do try to relate more to the community. Every new police officers hired has to go door to door in his new district and introduce himself. And I think that’s important too. That shouldn’t be excluded from the story, but neither should the fact that they doubled their police force. Like, that’s kind of an important detail.

All right? Just throwing that out there, guys. You’re free to form your own conclusions and do your own research, but that’s just my take for today. All right guys, listen, thanks so much for everything. Thank you so much for making the page what it is. You know, we’re doing close to 400,000 interactions per month. That’s almost 5 million per year, and I’m really very grateful for that. And more than that, I’m really grateful that you guys are so respectful to one another and that you welcome everybody’s opinion. Alright. Have a great week guys take care of yourselves.

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