The Christie administration’s response to calls for aid has been to tout successes in Camden, where a county-run force has replaced the city police. The city of Camden, facing budget concerns, agreed last year to disband its force and contract with Camden County to take over the police.
The takeover occurred May 1 when the county officially created its new police force. It has hired about 240 officers with another 100 hires expected to be made later this year. It also hired the former Camden police chief and a number of former midlevel ranking Camden officers. The new county force has been deployed throughout the city of Camden, with the city paying the cost. The county, according to Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, is in discussions with several other Camden County towns about doing the same thing.
Cappelli is calling it a success, though critics, including the Camden chapter of the NAACP, say it is too early to judge. More significantly, critics say, it is not a county force, given that the city of Camden is the only municipality in the 37-town county to participate in the arrangement.
In a press conference with Camden Mayor Dana Redd in August to announce the city’s new superintendent of schools, Christie praised the Camden police efforts saying that “the results we’ve seen so far in the first quarter of this work in the statistics I’ve seen are very encouraging.”
“It’s a good trend, but we’re not taking any victory laps over one quarter,” he said, according to a transcript of the governor’s remarks provided by his press office. “We’ve got to continue to remain committed. The force has to remain committed and the state will remain committed to supporting this effort, supporting the officers here on the ground, supporting the mayor and the county freeholders who have stood up and very boldly under Freeholder Director Cappelli’s leadership been willing to do this.”
Christie said the approach in Trenton, sending in state police until violence ebbs and then watching the violence “spike back up again,” is little more than a stop-gap measure. He said the Mercer County Freeholders and officials in the city of Trenton should look to Camden as a model.
“We’d be willing to work with the Mercer County government, the county executive Hughes, and the freeholders and with the administration, whatever it may be in Trenton, to do the same type of thing,” he said.
The failure so far to recruit other Camden County municipalities is one reason that legislators representing Trenton remain skeptical of the county police proposal. They say that disbanding the force was a way of eliminating the existing union and police contract, allowing the city and county to cut police wages and benefits. Instead of a Camden County model, they are asking the state to maintain added patrols until crime can be brought back under control and a long-term solution can be found.
“There is no Camden model to be modeled after,” Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) said. “It was simply done to break the unions. They invited every [town in the county] to join, but nobody accepted and they got to fire all of the [Camden city] police and rehire their police force at a reduced salary and pension.”