Giving Chris Christie Credit for Camden Requires a Selective Memory

This post is shared from the Local Knowledge Blog. Promoted by Rosi.

Over the past week, Gov. Christie has been in Camden twice, once to tout the new police force as a policy model, and once in support of education changes. In doing so, there has been a lot of numbers thrown around regarding the new police force, some optimistic, and indicate the force is downgrading arrests. But none of these pieces has pointed out the obvious; Camden faced a violent crime epidemic in part because of layoffs caused by municipal cuts by Gov. Christie. The Governor is now taking credit for numbers normalizing back to the historical rates that existed before his catastrophic cuts.

Back in 2010, Gov. Chris Christie made across the board cuts for municipal aid. For Camden, which depends on the state for the vast majority of its budget, these cuts were a “fiscal calamity” that endangered the city’s ability to provide basic services. The results were predictable; Camden lost 168 police officers, saw arrests drop, and crime spiral out of control.

If we are to judge the Metro Police, should it be against the skeleton of a force that remained after Christie’s cuts? Or against the historical performance in Camden of a fully staffed police force?

If we do the latter, the numbers just don’t look as good. That murder drop that Christie sited of 23% doesn’t look good in context:

I had a harder time getting historical data on short notice on Aggravated Assaults, but looking back at historical data from 1980-2005,, they appear slightly better. At 163 aggravated assaults in the last quarter, that would be under the historical trend. The problem is, simple assaults have seen a large increase:

“The question is, Is it real, or a downgrading effect?” said Thomas Arvanites, director of Villanova University’s criminology program. “And I don’t know how you would explain it being real.”

The point of this isn’t that the Metro Police is failing. There are indications that leave room for optimism, and local complaints of the techniques used to get them. We won’t know if the Metro Police is successful for years.

Similarly, even without the miracle claims, there are reasons to support the Metro Police. The force is less expensive as a result of busting the union and rehiring officers for much less pay (although the sudden “finding” of millions of federal grant money shows how political that budget crisis was). There are also reasons to be skeptical, including the politicization of assault numbers, and complaints that the new force is less familiar with neighborhoods and is not culturally competent.

But what is not up for debate is Gov. Christie’s role in the entire debacle. Gov. Christie’s slashing of municipal funds turned Camden from a high-crime area to a historically violent one. He deserves not to be compared to the historically bad conditions he helped create, but to the (still troubling) conditions that existed before he gutted Camden. Anything less is just selective memory.

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