"This is Jorgie's story. Unfortunately it isn't the only one," Police Chief Scott Thomson said as an image captured by a surveillance camera was projected on a large screen, pinpointing where the victim and the intended targets were that day. "Is this acceptable to you? Now is the time for change," Thomson said.
The change he, Mayor Dana L. Redd, and others recommended to the audience of more than 100 at a pasta dinner at Rutgers-Camden, hosted by a city nonprofit group, was familiar in its outlines but not spelled out in detail.
For months, backers of the plan, including Democratic Party leader George Norcross, have said creating a county force with a metro division focused on Camden would reduce policing costs and increase the number of police patrolling the city streets.
Redd said the plan was still in its draft stages.
The challenge for her and other backers is to get past the skepticism of many residents that an outside force will do better than their present police department, and resistance from police unions, which see the proposal as simply a union-busting move.
"I say to everyone in this room, we cannot afford not to act, and if we do act, and things take place, and this city becomes a place where people can live and work and enjoy the kind of freedoms that my family enjoys and many of you enjoy in the suburbs, this city will flourish like it did in the '40s and '50s," said Norcross, chair of the board of trustees of Cooper Health System and Cooper Hospital.
Redd said it was time to correct a system that she called "broken."
The Cooper's Ferry Development Association Inc. sent out invitations to the event. The nonprofit agency, which focuses on redevelopment in the city, picked up the roughly $2,500 dinner tab because the outreach fell within its mission to "promote and develop good public policy," said chief executive officer Anthony J. Perno III.
A spokesman for the mayor said she planned to hold more such meetings across the city.
Backers of the plan say it will help nearly double the size of the city's existing force, in part by hiring officers at lower salaries.
"The metro division has probably the best opportunity to improve the policing strategy for the city that I have seen in a long time," Perno said.
Suburban towns, however, so far have balked at the idea of joining a county force.
Even some listed among the hosts of Tuesday's gathering professed to be undecided.
"I would like to have a position. I don't know the details," Msgr. Robert McDermott of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral said before the event. "I am certainly in support of some action that needs to be taken for the good of the people of Camden."
Afterward, he remained undecided.
"It's soft on its details about when and how it will work," he said.
The proposal has drawn the ire of police unions. They have characterized the move - which would involve dissolving the Camden Police Department and possibly rehiring no more than 49 percent of those officers on the new force - as a union-busting maneuver.
A spike in violent crime in the city last year has led to intensified efforts by the plan's supporters to have it implemented.
Homicides climbed from 38 in 2010 to 49 in 2011; most other categories of crime also recorded sharp increases. The surge in crime came after the city, facing a budget crunch, laid off nearly half its police force in January.
Many, but not all, of those officers have been rehired, but several others have since left the department.
In December, Gov. Christie dispatched to Camden an unspecified number of state troopers, who have since left the city.
Union officials are circulating a petition to force Redd to hold a referendum on creating a regional force.
Under state law, if opponents of the plan gather signatures amounting to 15 percent of the city turnout in November's general election - about 900 people - and overcome likely legal challenges, the city would be required to put the matter on the ballot and abide by the outcome.
"We have a lot of support in the community, and I think that the community realizes that their rights are being infringed on by not having a say in the process," said John Williamson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Camden.
Contact staff writer Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.