New Camden force touts early successes

Releasing Camden data (from left) are Freeholder Lou Cappelli, City Council President Frank Moran, county Police Chief Scott Thomson, Mayor Dana L. Redd, the Rev. Wasim Muhammad, Freeholder Michelle Gentek.
Releasing Camden data (from left) are Freeholder Lou Cappelli, City Council President Frank Moran, county Police Chief Scott Thomson, Mayor Dana L. Redd, the Rev. Wasim Muhammad, Freeholder Michelle Gentek. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 08, 2013

Violent street crime in Camden dipped in the first three months that the city has been patrolled by a newly formed Camden County-run police force, particularly in two neighborhoods where the initial effort was concentrated, officials said Tuesday.

Citywide, daytime nonfatal shootings decreased 44 percent, from 39 victims to 22 from May 1 - the force's start date - to July 31 compared with the same period last year, according to crime statistics issued by the new force and titled "Marks of Progress."

Daytime homicides also fell, from 11 during the same three months last year to one this year, officials said.

There have been 30 homicides this year in the city, down from 39 at this point in 2012, the deadliest year ever recorded in Camden, with 67 homicides.

"Camden is safer today than it was yesterday, than it was last year," county Police Chief Scott Thomson told reporters at police headquarters in Camden.

Mayor Dana L. Redd said she and other city officials were seeing "children ride their bicycles and play in the parks."

Officials also credited the new policing push for an uptick in the numbers of illegal guns seized - 74 in the three-month period this year vs. 42 last year. A number of these weapons were found during traffic stops, they said.

"This is just the very beginning," Thomson said. "This is the first step in a journey of a thousand miles."

A police expert cautioned that it was too early to issue a definitive report card.

"Ninety days is too short a period to make sweeping declarations that you have turned the corner," said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

O'Donnell said an increase in the numbers of officers was not the only factor in reducing crime rates. "It's definitely not a perfect science," he said.

Citywide, violent street crime - a category officials said does not include incidents such as domestic violence calls - fell from 384 instances from May through July last year to 342 over the same time this year, an 11 percent decrease. Overall violent crime, though, only dipped 1 percent during that time.

In Parkside, instances of violent street crime dipped from 21 to seven over the same time, and from 13 to six in Fairview - a 54 percent decrease. Decreases in overall violent crime from 2012 were considerably less for each neighborhood over the same period.

The county force replaced the nearly 184-year-old city force this year in a thorny transition opposed by police unions and some residents. The 278-member force, which only patrols Camden, is expected to grow to about 400 by the end of the year.

The force has a heavy presence in Parkside and Fairview. Officers are seen walking beats in pairs, sometimes simultaneously on each side of the street.

Thomson said the force was initially focusing its community policing efforts in the two neighborhoods because they have a history of violence and gang activity. He said there was also strong neighborhood support for the police efforts.

Some residents have questioned why the force was not directed first to neighborhoods that they saw as even more plagued by violent crime.

"In my view, it's not working," Camden County NAACP President Colandus "Kelly" Francis said. He said homicides, shootings, and drug dealing were still rife in neighborhoods besides Parkside and Fairview.

Thomson said the rest of the city would see a stronger police presence by the end of the year.


Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or dsimon@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.

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