Can Camden cope with fewer cops?

Posted: December 09, 2010

Camden's resurrected holiday parade will course its way downtown Saturday afternoon, a little more than six months after 50 freshly minted police officers marched through the city's streets.

But those new officers will likely be the first to lose their jobs in January as one of the nation's poorest and most dangerous cities faces unprecedented police layoffs. Some familiar with the department wonder why they were hired at all.

"They were used as pawns, as sacrificial lambs," said one former officer who asked not to be identified. "A lot of people wondered, despite the fanfare that day, whether this was the best decision to hire these officers at that time."

Talk of drastic cuts in state aid, budget shortfalls and police layoffs began just a few months after the police parade in June.

On Jan. 18, up to 180 members of the 373-member department, mostly patrol officers, may lose their jobs. Dozens of ranking officers already have been demoted, and a handful, according to sources, have submitted resignations.

Union officials said that they will meet with city administrators tomorrow to discuss the city's concession requests, which include a 20 percent wage reduction. With additional concessions, however, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1 President John Williamson believes that the wage reduction approaches 30 to 35 percent.

"We cannot responsibly and in good conscience thrust our membership into foreclosure," he said. "We have no problem discussing or possibly agreeing to some concessions, if all the jobs are going to be saved."

According to a source familiar with the department, approximately 58 jobs could be saved if the union accepts all the concessions. The concessions also call for the elimination of shift differential, overtime, longevity pay for experienced officers and uniform allowances. The city also wants to increase insurance contributions and increase co-pays.

Mayor Dana Redd's spokesman, Robert Corrales, said that the city would not discuss concessions or negotiations.

With the anticipation of the layoffs, the Camden County Board of Freeholders has planned a private meeting in the city Monday for the 20 law-enforcement agencies who have boots on the ground there, including the New Jersey State Police, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Rutgers and the Delaware River Port Authority, to discuss how they can help a smaller Camden Police Department.

Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said he was confident that Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson could put together a plan to ensure public safety.

"I'm hoping the police make the concessions necessary to reduce the number of layoffs that take place," he said.

Williamson said the department plans to use two 12-hour shifts to cover the day instead of the current three overlapping shifts.

New Jersey State Police would not discuss the current level of staffing in the city, and Gov. Chris Christie said that he would not send more aid or additional troopers to patrol the city, which had been done in the past during periods of high crime.

Thomson said that the State Police have a "significant amount of resources" in Camden and that his dialogue with the agency increased as talk of layoffs grew.

Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said that Camden could probably use 400 officers, and he's worried that reduced manpower could delay critical investigations.

"That concerns us, because it's the initial contacts and follow-ups that help us get convictions," he said.

Police recruiters from Nashville, Norfolk and Atlanta, among other cities, have come to Camden in recent days to beef up their ranks with Camden officers, Williamson said.

"If Camden doesn't want them, they do," he said.

Corrales didn't have exact numbers for the cost of the city's holiday parade, but said that it was being funded mostly through sponsorships and donations.

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