"No one knows if this program will succeed," Czech said. "But it is not the intent of the law or the role of the Civil Service Commission to guarantee failure before this effort even starts."
The decision follows a two-year effort to overhaul law enforcement in Camden to enable what county officials promise will be the biggest strike at the city's drug criminals in decades - adding 130 officers to the ranks at the same annual cost as the existing department.
The savings would come via cuts in officers' pay and benefit packages, officials say. Labor leaders are calling the plan a union-busting maneuver. Camden police have worked for nearly four years on an expired contract.
The move has drawn national attention as city and small-town police departments confront shrinking revenues and wary taxpayers. On Wednesday it drew the ire of AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.
"America's public employees have been scapegoated by politicians for too long," he said in a statement. "City leaders in Camden . . . should learn a lesson from the NFL referee debacle. It took only a few short weeks for the entire nation to realize using replacement referees instead of highly trained union referees endangered player safety and diminished the game."
Hiring is expected to begin next month, with plans to launch the new force in early 2013 even as officers from the current department are being laid off.
But opposition continues in union halls and among activists in Camden, who argue that ending one department and starting another in one of the nation's most violent cities is too risky an experiment to undertake.
"What happens when this fails? Who's going to police the city?" a Camden police officer asked at Wednesday's hearing.
For now, the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the majority of Camden's 272 rank-and-file police officers, is fighting the plan in court.
But with time running out, John Williamson, president of the union's Camden lodge, is back at the negotiating table with city officials to potentially save officers' jobs.
"We understand the city is in difficult financial straits," he said Wednesday. "But we're still fighting this. It's not over."
Civil-service rules are in place in close to 200 New Jersey municipalities, including all the state's major cities, according to union officials.
The rules, established in 1908 to protect workers against political influence, have come under criticism by Gov. Christie's administration, which says they should be amended to allow greater flexibility in establishing shared municipal services.
Camden County officials were only granted exemption from rules governing hiring. At the end of the 12-month "pilot program," the examinations and other protocols of civil-service hiring will resume.
Still, union leaders reacted with outrage Wednesday, calling the decision the first step toward the end of civil-service protection for government workers.
"These rules were created to do away with the spoils system," said state FOP president Ed Brannigan. "We know there are problems in Camden, but they were brought on by the politicians, not the police officers."
The question hanging over the police takeover now is how it will be funded.
Camden currently relies on state support for 70 percent of its annual budget, and county officials want a guarantee they won't be left holding the bag should that funding arrangement change.
County officials have been negotiating with the governor's office on that point for months.
"It's moving forward," said county spokesman Dan Keashen. "I think there are certain benchmarks they want to see. And we're getting close. Today was a big step."
The police takeover remains a divisive issue in the city, whose 48 homicides so far are just one short of last year's total and closing in on the record 58.
On Wednesday, City Councilman Brian Coleman, who has opposed the county force, released a letter he sent to Mayor Dana L. Redd questioning the spending of $1.7 million in police overtime pay this summer as reported in a recent Inquirer article.
In particular he asked for records related to police staffing at Susquehanna Bank Center concerts and at Cooper University Hospital. He alleged that some officers might have been assigned to the hospital off the books.
In an e-mail response, Cooper spokeswoman Lori Shaffer said the hospital "contracts with the Camden Police Department for two officers on foot and one patrol vehicle in the surrounding Health Sciences blocks. This is 24-hour coverage in support of our current 70-member security team at Cooper."
Police Chief Scott Thomson said in a statement that patrol assignments were "consistent with operational needs that best protect our community."
Contact James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or firstname.lastname@example.org.