Our friends at Camden NAACP sent around a listing that provides a needed reality check to the much ballyhooed success of the Camden county police force. Camden is – still – listed as the second most dangerous city in America, based on a review of violent crimes per 1,000 residents in cities with over 25,000 population.
And that is significant, given the political mileage Christie has tried to get out of Camden’s changeover. Ditto the South Jersey Democratic machine, with perhaps this one moment of semi-clarity (or at least the appearance of it). Though the public relations reach of the new Camden County police force always exceeded its actual accomplishments, it was enough to actually bring President Obama to Camden last May to throw the warm, pink glow of presidential spotlight on Camden’s new force, high-fives all around. This, despite the fact the force is bleeding officers – still, and sometimes without ever first walking a beat in Camden, plus a decision to give Chief Scott Thomson a $67k raise (bumping him up to $230k) that was poorly received by many in the city. Since Thomson took over the force, Camden’s either been first or second on several rankings of dangerous cities, says NAACP.
I generally approach listings and rankings with a hefty dose of skepticism, given the fact that they’re sometimes the work of feverish PR specialists under contract. But the Camden ranking, by a group called Neighborhood Scout, appears based on solid crime numbers. At any rate, they publish info about how they arrive at their ranking. So you can decide for yourself the veracity.
East St. Louis comes in at number one, Camden at #2. Flint, Michigan is 7th, and besides Camden, five other Jersey cities make the list; Atlantic City, cratering in every respect (21st), Trenton (49th), Newark (51st), Bridgeton (64th) and just making the list, Elizabeth (99th).
Just a couple weeks ago, the generally-absent Gov. Christie used Camden – again – to suggest that things are better under his guidance. The occasion was State of the State address, which also included a shout-out to Mayor Dana Redd:
“From 2011 to 2014, crime in New Jersey fell 20 percent and incarceration fell nearly 10 percent. In Camden, once the most violent city in America, the murder rate has dropped 52% in the three years since, with the Mayor, we transformed the police force.“
I don’t know that the citizens of Camden feel their situation is somehow “transformed,” no matter how many times their governor and local officials claim it. What I wish for Camden is, yes, a police force that lives up to its PR, with officers drawn from its communities, but perhaps more importantly jobs that pay a living wage, public schools that recognize and respect neighborhoods and the children who live there, higher education and jobs training assistance for those who can benefit, and an end to corporate welfare that primarily rewards friends and allies of Christie or George Norcross and not the people who live there who get screwed over there. Over and over and over.