By: Follow South Jersey Staff
CAMDEN, N.J. — May 1 marked the eight year anniversary of the disbanding of the Camden City Police Department and the inception of the Camden County Police Department.
Camden County Commissioner Louis Cappelli, Jr. calls that change the “birth of a new era in Camden City.”
“Since that time, the men and women of the agency have devoted their lives to the idea that policing can be community focused,” Cappelli said in a prepared statement, “and that officers should be guardians and resources for the residents they serve.”
Less than ten years ago, Camden was recognized as one of the most dangerous cities in America.
“Crime was surging and it was clear to all who looked that the old model of policing was failing,” Cappelli said. “County and city leaders agreed that dramatic change was the only way to move forward, and the old city police department stood down for the creation of a new, completely rebuilt organization. By 2020, crime rates in the city fell to lows not seen in a generation.”
Camden City saw reductions in homicides, shootings, and overall crime in 2020 according to Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR), a Federal Bureau of Investigation program that generates statistics of crime data for use in law enforcement.
According to the report, there were more than 500 fewer crime victims in the city in 2020 compared to the preceding year, and approximately 1,700 fewer crime victims compared to 2014. Total crimes fell to under 3,000 in Camden for the first time in more than 50 years.
Last year, the city logged 2,796 total crimes compared to 10,724 in 1974, the first year on record for UCR data, marking a 73 percent reduction.
“CCPD achieved this unprecedented turnaround while improving relations with the community,” Capelli said. “Barbeques in the park, pickup basketball games, officers visible on walking beats in the heart of the city’s neighborhoods were all changing the perception of what police officers meant to those they served.”
With the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year and the calls for disbanding police departments, Camden County Police Department has been seen as a national model.
“Last summer, and again in recent weeks, I’ve watched and read national news coverage of the Camden County Police Department as a model for the nation in the wake of police killings across the country,” Cappelli said. “The progress that has led to this point is thanks to each and every member of the department, from leadership to civilian employees.”
According to a June 2020 Newsweek article, while protests of the murder of Geoge Floyd had “erupted into chaos with police seen deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and other heavy-handed tactics against largely peaceful demonstrators,” Camden City’s demonstrations remained calm and the then police chief, Joseph Wysocki march along side demonstrators holding a banner that said, “Standing In Solidarity” next to residents who were holding “Black Lives Matter” signs.
Cappelli credits recent policy changes that are garnering the attention of police departments nationwide.
“In 2019, CCPD adopted one of the most progressive use-of-force policies in the nation, one which places the sanctity of human life above all else and prioritizes the preservation of life whenever possible,” Cappelli said. “We train officers to ensure that the use of force is always a last resort, and any use of force is immediately to be reviewed by a supervisor during the officer’s shift. Our officers have been asked to travel the country to teach de-escalation tactics to other departments.”
While there has been much progress, Cappelli sees that there is more to be done to continue improvement of the department.
“Eight years after the creation of the Camden County Police Department, there is of course still work to be done,” Cappelli said. “We are committed, along with Chief Rodriguez, to maintaining an open dialogue with the community about how we can continue to improve our operations. Camden City is irrefutably a safer, more prosperous place to live thanks to CCPD and its leadership, and I look forward to celebrating even more of their accomplishments in the years to come.”
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