But the new attorney general, Anne Milgram, is not a throw-your-hands-up kind of prosecutor. That is why she recently pledged to make Camden's crime woes a top state priority and has set about trying to make the department look and operate more like the one in East Orange, N.J., which is considered the gold standard of police turnarounds in New Jersey.
And Jose Cordero, who runs that North Jersey police force, has some can-do advice for Camden police brass.
"Bottom line: You just got to do what you got to do," said Cordero, a onetime New York police inspector who has produced stunning anticrime results since taking over the East Orange force three years ago. "You got to move forward."
Forward motion, however, is not the norm in Camden.
Milgram believes police technology must be upgraded if Camden, whose police force is under her office's supervision, is to have a real chance of attacking its violent crime.
East Orange has boasted sharp crime reductions since Cordero overhauled the police command structure, abolished the narcotics division, and implemented $1 million worth of high-end computerized systems.
"Our crime has gone down 56 percent in three years," he said Friday. "We're looking at another 32 percent" drop this year.
Homicides are down by more than half; shootings are down by more than 60 percent. The turnaround is so stunning that Cordero, at Milgram's request, will run a crime-fighting workshop in December for mayors and police executives across the state.
Principally, and most immediately, Milgram wants Camden to do a better job gathering intelligence on criminals and investigating violent crimes. That means fully outfitting the department with CompStat, a computer-based approach to tracking and investigating crime.
"If it were easy to stop the violence in a place like Camden, it would have already been done - so nobody should think for a second that this kind of thing is easy, right?" Milgram said in a recent interview.
Camden has not been completely remiss in implementing technology. Indeed, police chiefs have tried to upgrade computer systems, cars, and other necessary tools in recent years.
The police purchased two crime-mapping computer systems to improve the way they target and arrest criminals. They unveiled one of them - a much-ballyhooed version of crime mapping - nearly three years ago at a news conference where officials pledged to "stamp out crime, not just relocate it," with CompStat.
But most of the equipment they purchased has grown largely obsolete or is no longer being used effectively, if at all.
"They have a mapping system, and they've never had bad equipment," said Jerry H. Radcliffe, a crime analysis expert and professor at Temple University who was hired as a crime consultant to Camden two years ago.
"But the general field of crime mapping is advancing incredibly rapidly, and the technology can be outdated very quickly," Radcliffe said.
This speaks to a larger issue that has hamstrung the department for quite some time: a lack of effective planning, funding, and continuity in leadership at the local and state level.
For a solid decade, a series of police chiefs have complained of chronic underfunding in what is among the poorest cities in the nation. When they needed more money for equipment and officers, they say, city leaders balked - despite the importance of fighting crime to spur redevelopment.
Then the city turned the tables on its police by handing over control of the department to the county prosecutor's office in 2003, following a report that disparaged the chief's management.
Today, the department and its $35 million operating budget are led by a state-appointed civilian who reports to an interim prosecutor, who himself reports to Milgram.
Arturo Venegas, a former police chief of Sacramento, Calif., took the helm last year after a national search that had been launched in 2005 - three attorney generals ago.
He walked into a difficult situation, according to acting Camden County Prosecutor Joshua M. Ottenberg, who replaced Vincent P. Sarubbi in November.
"When Venegas arrived a year ago and asked for a strategic plan, there was none," Ottenberg said.
There was no organization-wide effort to project needs or guide purchasing - an already difficult challenge because of chronic underfunding.
"I ordered two marked police cars out of my budget for the domestic violence task force," Ottenberg said. "I think we ordered them last December, and we still don't have them."
Venegas himself has also been a target of criticism. Two deputy chiefs have filed lawsuits that variously allege a hostile work environment or discrimination. Citing low morale, City Council President Angel Fuentes said he would ask the attorney general to remove Venegas and appoint a new chief.
It is little wonder, then, that Milgram's top policy adviser, Lisa Thornton, was frustrated when asked during an interview why Camden was so far behind a city such as East Orange when it comes to CompStat.
"If you go speak to the people in East Orange, Joe Cordero will tell you that he had a vision and he had a mayor that was totally behind him, and that mayor did not call up the governor or the attorney general and say, 'I need money to do this, I need a grant, I need this,' " Thornton said.
"They went about their business to put it in place because that was necessary for public safety in East Orange," Thornton said. "And when people want to do things, people find a way to do things."
Thornton spent months researching crime, prevention and enforcement across the state to help formulate Gov. Corzine's anticrime policy, unveiled several weeks ago.
The two cities are similar in some ways, quite different in others.
Camden has about 80,000 residents, while East Orange has 70,000. But Camden residents were victims of violent crimes at twice the rate of East Orange residents last year, according to police statistics. Camden also had three times the number of homicides, 32, compared with nine in East Orange.
Camden also is much poorer. A third of all residents live below the poverty level, compared to one in five in East Orange. Camden has a higher high school dropout rate.
Cordero said he was careful not to ask for new police money until after he tested a few of his ideas on the street and got positive results in the crime data.
That also helped persuade officers to embrace the new system. He also realized he would not convert everyone, so he decided to stand firm amid opposition.
"If someone wants to sue you or block you for making critical, important choices that are the difference between someone dying and not dying," Cordero said, "then you need to have the internal fortitude to say, 'I'm going to do it anyway.' "
Contact staff writer Maria Panaritis at 609-989-7373 or email@example.com.