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CNB ARCHIVES 2011: Camden on the Brink by Jacob Laksin - City Journal



CNB Archives February 11, 2011


Camden NJ - Grafitti on Ferry Street
The poverty-ridden New Jersey city faces police cuts amid increasing crime. 
9 February 2011

States and municipalities around the country are struggling to tighten their fiscal belts, but few cities face as stark a choice as the hard-luck South New Jersey city of Camden. One of America’s most dangerous cities, Camden seeks to close a $26.5 million budget hole by laying off one-quarter of its city government workers—including half of its police force. In an austerity plan that went into effect last month, the city laid off 180 uniformed officers and 20 police dispatchers from its 375-strong force. 

Camden expects to save $14 million from the police department cuts, but there is growing alarm that the city, one of the country’s poorest and most violent, will wind up paying a much higher price for its budget savings. Camden residents, already afraid to venture out after dark, worry that the city will become even more hospitable for criminals. “They’ll be coming into the houses,” one fearful resident recently told the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “They know you can’t call the cops. There won’t be any cops to call.” The local press has reported on drug dealers’ openly relishing the prospect of a diminished police presence. 

Camden’s Democratic mayor, Dana Redd, has held firm on the budget cuts. Echoing Republican governor Chris Christie’s tough talk about fiscal responsibility, Redd has insisted that Camden has no choice but to “live within our means.” Redd has also adopted Christie’s confrontational stand against public-sector unions. She has placed responsibility for the layoffs—not implausibly—on the police union, which unanimously rejected her plan to save 100 police jobs through a pay cut in the form of unpaid furloughs. The average salary for a rank-and-file police officer in Camden, after benefits, the mayor points out, is around $140,000 a year—in a city where more than half of the residents live below the federal poverty line.


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