“Defund the Police?” No, But Camden County, NJ Is a Model

 
It caught my eye from one of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports is that officials there are looking at the successful policing transformation that has occurred in Camden, New Jersey, over nearly a decade.
 
It’s a story I’m quite familiar with, having worked in Camden over nearly 17 years (until late 2018), and knowing well the public officials behind the transformation, from the Camden County Council to then-Mayor, Dana Redd, and then-Police Chief, J. Scot Thomson.
 
As I’ve said here previously, they are a model for the cities everywhere, and the New York Times captured the transformation in this 2014 story; National Public Radio follow up in 2015. It is genuinely a success story in a troubled but rising city, but it is not about “defunding police.” It is about returning to, and expanding on, a vision of real “community policing.” Bloomberg News Service followed up with a story 3 days ago.
 
Camden’s police department had fallen into disrepair. Mayor Redd didn’t effectively “abolish” the force, but allowed the county to, in effect, “acquire” it, and completely change their approach, focused on neighborhood engagement and safety. Broken communities, like Camden – one of America’s poorest cities, and at one time a “murder capital” — cannot rebuild, attract jobs, or invite new residents if people do not feel safe. “Foot patrols” and engaging with residents, along with enforcing the law to eliminate open-air drug markets, has helped transform this city. Trust has been established, and the progress continues. Violent and non-violent crime rates have tumbled.
 
So, yes, it would be wise for cities and towns everywhere to emulate what Camden has done. It works. But it is not the same as “defunding the police.” That is dangerous and unwelcome rhetoric. But I think Camden’s successful transformation is a model everyone can embrace. Except, maybe, for Antifa. 
 
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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    It’s best if the LEOs are well-known in the neighborhoods.

    • #1
  2. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    I was just hearing about this from a friend who hosted children at her home in Camden, Maine back in the nineties, when there was a program called “Camden  to Camden.” She had two little boys come up and stay with her family for a few weeks one summer, and then they just kept coming back. She’s still in touch with them, and is an honorary grandmother to their kids.

     It would be a very good thing if community policing had a renaissance. 

    • #2
  3. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    • #3
  4. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    One of the things back in the 1990s that helped New York drastically cut its crime rate, aside from the basic ‘broken windows’ policing, was to get police in high-crime areas out of their patrol cars and back on the street as much as possible, in order to be more of a presence in the neighborhoods and interacting with the public they were serving. But under the current situation with the angry progressive activists, “more of a presence” has negative connotations — in their mind, they’d much prefer the 1960s through early 90s’ “911 reaction” patrols, where the police aren’t seen unless a crime’s been committed (or worse — the police aren’t seen, and somehow all the former 911 calls are either handled by social workers or some type of local community organizing body).

    That’s not to say the Camden County system couldn’t work in various places. But the politicians are going to have to be willing to draw a line and stand up for their local law enforcement at some point in order to make it work, because the activists see the type of misguided policing that made the nearly three-decade period from the mid-60s through the early 90s one of record crime levels as an asset, not a liability.

    • #4
  5. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    I’m glad to hear about the success of Camden. 

    What an embarrassment that a big city like NYC, LA, or Minneapolis couldn’t have taken a similar initiative. 

    But, FYI, BLM is not looking to spread the Camden success. Or they would be saying that. 

    • #5
  6. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    It seems from the Bloomberg/MSN article that there are still anti-police forces at work in Camden, as suggested by the civilian review board proposal. I hope their good fortunes last. 

    Personal interactions with police officers beyond arrests and trials would certainly help to establish trust. I’m not sure of the best methods to encourage that. Some high-crime areas are too spread out and car-oriented for walking patrols to make sense. 

    There was talk somewhere years ago about providing incentives for police officers to live near the areas they work. But that puts officers and their families at greater risk of retaliation and predation. 

    • #6
  7. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Boston had a similar success story. Paul F. Evans became police commissioner at a very difficult moment in Boston’s history. Over his tenure as commissioner, 1994 through 2003, all types of crimes went way down. Evans dealt with the racial divisions by convening a standing committee of the city’s religious leaders of all faiths, by increasing the black and Hispanic percentage of the police force, adding foot patrols to all the neighborhoods, and most importantly, raising money through a private business round table for afterschool activities for kids from kindergarten through high school. For older high school kids, he established a youth afterschool and summer jobs program.

    He combined these preventive measures with the broken-windows policing strategy and making sure that the low-income neighborhoods received police protection. One troubling aspect of racism that had crept into the methods and procedures of the Boston police force was to ignore or write off crimes of most kinds in the poorer neighborhoods by adopting the attitude, “That’s just the way they are. That’s how they live.” Under Evans, there was no more of that attitude tolerated from the police chiefs on the lower rungs of the organization ladder. Instead, Evans insisted on the egalitarian attitude that every resident was a U.S. citizen and was entitled to police protection.

    I hear the term “broken windows” used frequently these days. It’s seems to have taken on a very narrow definition, and in some places, has resulted it low-level police harassment for truly insignificant “crimes.” The responsibility for the crime part of that equation lies squarely with federal, state, and local lawmaking entities who need to be more responsible in passing actually meaningful and enforceable laws. We have far too many people in this country whose sole job is passing laws, far more laws than any group of people could ever keep track of and obey consistently. The result is that your government can get you if it wants to. That’s just not right in any way. And it puts a dangerous tool in the hands of police in poor neighborhoods. Without commonsense executive leadership in a city or town, the broken windows approach to police work can be counterproductive. And the effect is cumulative. I think that’s what we’re seeing now–the pot has boiled over and the people in the overpoliced neighborhoods are revolting. They see it as “racism,” but I suspect it’s simply too much police presence and activity.

    The broken windows concept needs to be applied within a complete framework of urban renewal, education and jobs programs, and youth programs. And there needs to be a practical version of the low-level crimes that the police are actually working on at any given moment. And perhaps each neighborhood needs to get together with the police to list their concerns–graffiti, speeding at certain intersections, and so on. Working with people this way would also develop new community leaders.

    • #7
  8. Bucknelldad Coolidge
    Bucknelldad
    @SoupGuy

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    I’m glad to hear about the success of Camden.

    What an embarrassment that a big city like NYC, LA, or Minneapolis couldn’t have taken a similar initiative.

    But, FYI, BLM is not looking to spread the Camden success. Or they would be saying that.

    Fair point; besides, BLM and their allied groups can get more attention, more space, and better backdrops right across the river in downtown Philly. The BLM folks were also perhaps surprised when the Camden County PD actually marched in “solidarity” with the Camden protestors. Very peaceful event!

    • #8
  9. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Boston had a similar success story. Paul F. Evans became police commissioner at a very difficult moment in Boston’s history. Over his tenure as commissioner, 1994 through 2003, all types of crimes went way down. Evans dealt with this racial divisions by convening a standing committee of the city’s religious leaders of all faiths, by increasing the black and Hispanic percentage of the police force, adding foot patrols to all of the neighborhoods, and most importantly, raising money through a private business round table for afterschool activities for kids from kindergarten through high school. For older high school kids, he established a youth after school and summer jobs program.

    I hear the term “broken windows” used frequently these days. It’s seems to have taken on a very narrow definition, and in some places, has resulted it low-level police harassment for truly insignificant “crimes.” The responsibility for the crime part of that equation lies squarely with federal, state, and local lawmaking entities who need to be more responsible in passing actually meaningful and enforceable laws. We have far too many people in country whose sole job is passing laws, far more laws than any group of people could ever keep track of and obey consistently. The result is that your government can get you if they want to. That’s just not right in any way.

    ‘Broken Windows’ policing is not ‘Stop and Frisk’ policing — the former tackles small, but real crimes based on the idea that people who commit those are more likely to have committed other larger crimes. The latter was proactively assuming someone had criminal intent for minor violations, and using that as a pretense to have more invasive policing. Progressives and libertarians joined forces in 2011 to sue New York over ‘Stop and Frisk’, but the current mayor and others around the country want people to believe it’s the same as ‘Broken Windows’ and to enact new rules that would make it impossible for future mayors to revive the policies that were so effective in the mid-1990s.

     

    • #9
  10. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    the former tackles small, but real crimes based on the idea that people who commit those are more likely to have committed other larger crimes.

    Your definition is not what I have understood the definition to be. That said, I hear that understanding of the term expressed frequently.

    “Broken windows” was actually only a subitem in the community-policing framework. And the term had both a literal and figurative meaning.

    My understanding of “broken windows” is that it refers to the idea that if we act against the small crimes consistently, people don’t get a sense that there’s no police interested to enforce the larger crimes. Also, fixing the windows as soon as they are vandalized rather than just leaving them there, cleaning up graffiti as soon as it appears, and so on creates an orderly feeling to a neighborhood. In other words, if we were talking about gardening, it would mean pulling the weeds when they were small and few. It’s paying attention to the details. It didn’t refer to catching hard-core criminals by catching them breaking low-level laws. It may have resulted in that, but it was not its purpose or central organizing theory.

    I worked as a volunteer with a middle school principal who talked about the broken windows theory a lot as it was effective for him as a school management strategy. We had the cleanest and best-maintained middle school on Cape Cod. Everyone worked together on speaking to the kids whenever they used crude or profane language. It was a little thing, but it was effective. It wasn’t a crime-and-punishment step. It was small but consistent way to create a peaceful emotional environment in the school. Swearing creates a tension in everyone around it. So this little step was important. And it worked.

    When I was working in his school, I often went to other schools on the Cape with our kids, and the more I did so, the more I appreciated what our principal was doing. The emotional climate at his school was far better and more productive, the kids and teachers being more fully engaged in this thing we call education, the pride in our school was high, because we had such a well maintained school. I went to a middle school in our neighboring town, and I saw broken glass from bottles all over the kids’ outdoor area and sports fields. It was really sad.

    In other words, “broken windows” means addressing the small problems consistently.

    For our principal, and later our local police chief who was a good friend Paul Evans and who brought “community policing” and “broken windows theory” to our town, the term referred to a way of life. It wasn’t constant harassment or a way to catch the big Al Capone criminals on some minor infraction of some other law. It was more along the lines of a stitch in time saves nine. :-)

    • #10
  11. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    the former tackles small, but real crimes based on the idea that people who commit those are more likely to have committed other larger crimes.

    Your definition is not what I have understood the definition to be. That said, I hear that understanding of the term expressed frequently.

    “Broken windows” was actually only a subitem in the community-policing framework. And the term had both a literal and figurative meaning.

    My understanding of “broken windows” is that it refers to the idea that if we act against the small crimes consistently, people don’t get a sense that there’s no police interested to enforce the larger crimes. Also, fixing the windows as soon as they are broken rather than just leaving them there, cleaning up graffiti as soon as it appears, and so on creates an orderly feeling to a neighborhood. In other words, if we were talking about gardening, it would mean pulling the weeds when they were small and few. It’s paying attention to the details. It didn’t refer to catching hard-core criminals by catching them breaking low-level laws. It may have resulted in that, but it was not its purpose or central organizing theory.

    You’re right that from a base level “Broken Windows’ was to show that someone was paying attention.  Police showing they were paying attention by enforcing the minor crimes ended up turning up people wanted on much more serious warrants, and when they combined it with the new CompStat method of spotting areas where crimes were spiking and emphasizing those areas, police were able to know immediately where extra resources needed to be deployed.

    It’s probably that last area, where ‘rapid response’ to an uptick in criminal incidents turned into proactive policing with ‘Stop and Frisk’ that things started going crossways, and led to the harassment claims and lawsuits. We’ll see if the reformers in Minneapolis, New York and elsewhere know or care about the difference — at the moment, they seem to think social workers can do ‘Broken Windows’ policing.

    • #11
  12. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    ‘Broken Windows’ policing is not ‘Stop and Frisk’ policing

    I am reliably told that it is “Stop, Question, and Frisk”. People forget the Question part.

    • #12
  13. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Bucknelldad: Camden’s police department had fallen into disrepair. Mayor Redd didn’t effectively “abolish” the force, but allowed the county to, in effect, “acquire” it, and completely change their approach, focused on neighborhood engagement and safety.

    Shouldn’t it be “Refund the Police” then?

    • #13
  14. MichaelKennedy Inactive
    MichaelKennedy
    @MichaelKennedy

    As I understand the Camden model it is the same as has been routine in Orange County CA.  The small cities in OC have contracted with the OC Sheriff to provide police services. I think Irvine and Santa Ana are the two city PDs that I know of.  It works for small cities in big counties.  Los Angeles County has provided  police services for small cities with the LA County Sheriff, a long established force.

    • #14
  15. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    There was talk somewhere years ago about providing incentives for police officers to live near the areas they work. But that puts officers and their families at greater risk of retaliation and predation. 

    In Philly, Police, Fire and Teachers must live within the city. That has been so for @20 years. 

    It can create community incentive, but also keeps the wage tax in the city, as well as keeps the well-paid workers from fleeing. 

    Truly, the devastated areas are still devastated, but there are some nice areas within the city boundaries, and the city is keeping a base of taxpaying citizens. 

    • #15
  16. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    question about broken windows: 

    is it also possible that many broken windows (low level offenses) are committed by youth?

    When youth are left undisciplined and uncorrected, then it seems more likely they step up to larger, more serious offenses. 

     

     

    • #16
  17. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    question about broken windows:

    is it also possible that many broken windows (low level offenses) are committed by youth?

    When youth are left undisciplined and uncorrected, then it seems more likely they step up to larger, more serious offenses.

    Yes, that’s true, or least that’s what the local district attorney told me. If we can apprehend the young vandals, that’s great. First fix it quickly so that one broken window doesn’t invite more vandalism, then try to find the vandal.

    • #17
  18. jeannebodine, Verbose Bon Viva… Member
    jeannebodine, Verbose Bon Viva…
    @jeannebodine

    Camden’s police was completely disbanded due to rampant corruption. I remain cynical about replicating the Camden, NJ model across the country. Camden is small and it’s surrounded by a  beautiful waterfront with amenities as well as very prosperous suburbs although the city itself still looks like something out of Beirut.

    Last I read they had a ratio of 1 police officer for 54 residents. Their police force is part of Camden County, and as such they utilize county resources consisting of K-9 Unit, S.W.A.T. team, Special Victims Unit, Domestic Violence Unit, Auto Squad, Detective Bureau, HIDTA, Anti-Crime Partnership, Marine Bureau, Mounted Horse Unit, Smash Team Unit, Tactical Negotiations Unit (TNT), Patrol Division North, Patrol Bureau South, Patrol Unit Central. Crime declined in Camden in 2019 but declined by even larger margins across the state.

    Then again, perhaps you can attribute my naysayer attitude to the fact that I was brutally attacked in Camden, NJ about 30 years ago. I know Compton, CA engaged a model similar to Camden, did that work out well?

    • #18
  19. jeannebodine, Verbose Bon Viva… Member
    jeannebodine, Verbose Bon Viva…
    @jeannebodine

    I forgot to mention that I believe the long term vision for Camden is turning it into luxury condos as part of the riverside development. The city offers magnificent views of Philadelphia just across the river.

    • #19
  20. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    jeannebodine, Verbose Bon Viva… (View Comment):

    I was brutally attacked in Camden, NJ about 30 years ago. 

    I’m so sorry that happened to you.

    • #20
  21. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Aha. I thought I recognized the name Camden, New Jersey. It was one of the towns that Jonathan Kozol described in Savage Inequalities, his interesting 1991 book about the disparities in the schools children attend across the country. I see the problem he sees, but not the same answer. However, Camden was spending a lot on its public schools when Kozol wrote about it.

     

    • #21
  22. Bucknelldad Coolidge
    Bucknelldad
    @SoupGuy

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Aha. I thought I recognized the name Camden, New Jersey. It was one of the towns that Jonathan Kozol described in Savage Inequalities, his interesting 1991 book about the disparities in the schools children attend across the country. I see the problem he sees, but not the same answer. However, Camden was spending a lot on its public schools when Kozol wrote about it.

    I recall that publication. The schools were reformed alongside the police force, obviously on a separate track. The state actually took over the schools about a decade ago, forced changes, engaged parents, and brought in private funding and partnerships along with charter schools and rebuilding crumbling facilities and closing others. It is still very expensive but graduation rates are way up and truancy is down.

    • #22
  23. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Bucknelldad (View Comment):
    It is still very expensive but graduation rates are way up and truancy is down.

    That makes me happy to hear that.

    Like addiction, it is not easy to break out of generational poverty. There is a sickness to that condition that needs care and compassion.

    Children born into generational poverty have done nothing to deserve their fate, and we need to find ways to build them up and bring their dignity to the fore. Build the kids up. Break that cycle. 

    • #23