Early numbers: County force has benefits for Camden

Posted: October 08, 2013

CAMDEN When the plan was rolled out last year, the numbers sounded impossible, implausible at best. Camden would nearly double the number of officers on the streets at no additional cost to the city.

But 2014 preliminary budget numbers and a county analysis comparing city and county police force spending show $24 million in savings to be reinvested into the bolstered force this year.

The shift from the Camden City Police Department to the county police force will not decrease the amount the city spends on police next year, but it has generated enough savings to hire 170 additional officers and 92 civilian officers, budget numbers show. Thanks to a Department of Justice grant, the force will add 11 officers on top of that to get to 411 by December. Last year's force had dwindled to about 230 officers, due in part to January layoffs.

Mayor Dana L. Redd's proposed $172 million municipal budget includes $62 million for police, a slight uptick from the nearly $60 million spent in 2013.

"When you think about how many people you have, to be able to still operate at $61 million, it's incredible," said Joseph Cordero, who was at the helm of the police changeover.

A public hearing will be held at the City Council meeting Tuesday for residents to weigh in on the entirety of the 2014 budget, which is $21 million higher than last year's but which calls for no layoffs, furloughs, or increase in taxes.

Much of the spending increase is for redevelopment projects for which the city expects to receive grant money.

The city will ask the state for nearly $14 million in transitional aid, down from the $15.5 million it requested last year. It also anticipates $98.5 million in fixed aid.

The $24 million in police savings came from cuts to salaries, benefits, and staffing, an analysis provided by the county shows.

In order to compare the current larger department to the former smaller one, officials looked at what the city spent when it had 300 officers versus what it spends on the county department currently staffed at 300, Cordero said.

The average total cost per city department officer was about $182,168, which was nearly halved to $99,605 in the county department, Cordero said.

That was achieved through changes in medical coverage and pension plans, saving the department $15 million. Additional savings came from salary changes (a $3.6 million cut) and an end to longevity and shift differential pay, which gave bonuses to officers based on length of service and the time of day they worked.

Last week, the Police Department unionized, which could mean bargaining will alter future budgets, though FOP president Bill Wiley said it was too early to speculate as he had not yet seen the budget.

"We haven't been privy to anything yet," he said. "Our goal is we want something fair and reasonable for the men and women and also fair and reasonable for the citizens and the county that we work for and protect."

The county, which operates on a calendar year, is still finalizing its budget, which will provide a more detailed breakdown of how the $62 million will be spent. That budget will be reviewed by the Department of Community Affairs.

When the county first outlined its plans, it promised $14 million annually in savings. This year, Keashen said that money would be reinvested in new cars, technology, and radio equipment, along with the increased force.

The controversy over the disbanding of the city department still reverberates in City Hall, where last week a discussion over policing became tense.

Councilman Brian Coleman asked Deputy Chief Joseph L. Williams why Coleman's block, near Whitman Park, didn't have a more active police presence despite two homicides in the neighborhood in recent weeks.

Williams said the department doesn't release deployment strategies for security reasons.

Councilwoman Deborah Person-Polk, who lives in East Camden, interjected to thank Williams for "what's happened in my neighborhood. We're truly appreciative."

"Maybe you should come live on the 1200 block of Chase Street," Coleman retorted.

Tuesday's budget hearing begins at 5 p.m.




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