A look at Camden and the pros and cons of shared services

Shared services has been a hot topic in New Jersey. It’s been touted as the solution to spiking property taxes, while also bring rejected by some towns who want to maintain their independence. But some municipalities that have entered into shared services agreements have seen some major benefits, like Camden County and the City of Camden.

“I would venture to say that in the state of New Jersey, no other county and city work closer together than Camden County and Camden City. We started a police force six years ago to provide better police servicing for the city, we have all kinds of shared service agreements,” said Camden County Freeholder Director Lou Capelli, Jr.

Those include dispatch for the shared police department, purchasing agreements and code enforcement services. The county also provides the city with a licensed drug and alcohol interventionist in the courtroom, says Camden County Communications Director Dan Keashan.

“We’ve seen a 67% decrease in homicides and almost a 50% decrease in violent crime and that has all equaled about the lowest overall crime numbers that the city has seen in about 50 years,” Keashan said.

And although the murder rate dropped from 67 in 2012, the last year of Camden’s own police department, to 22 homicides in 2018, some members of the community point out that the Metro Police force, created by the county, doesn’t reflect the demographics of city residents.

“Camden is approximately 95% minority. … The new Metro Force was comprised of 392 officers that time. Caucasians were now in the majority at a whopping 57%, 25% Hispanic and only 18% African American,” said Darnell Hardwick, lead researcher and former president of the Camden County NAACP.

That’s 43% minority, according to Camden County NAACP statistics. But Keashan says it’s 53%, adding that there’s a new culture within the force.

“An overall policing strategy that is focused on engagement dialogue, and really the foundation of it is community policing. It was a tremendous culture change from the department that had existed prior,” said Keashan.

But others simply don’t like the idea that with shared services the city’s not independent.

“We’re so engulfed in shared service agreements that it’s almost like the city’s on welfare,” said Rev. Levi Combs III from First Refuge Progressive Baptist Church.

But the county recently submitted a proposal to expand shared services with the city finance department. The state rejected the proposal.

“What it would have brought to the city was financial expertise that does not currently exist in the city. Camden County has a finance department that includes purchasing agents, accountants,” said Capelli.

The Department of Community Affairs explained the rejection of the proposal in a statement, saying, “In order to work, shared services agreements have to demonstrate cost savings and efficiencies. Because the recent shared services proposals between Camden County and the City of Camden didn’t meet this requirement, we encouraged both of them to go back to the drawing board.”

“The proposal that we provided to DCA did provide savings. In the very near future $6.6 million worth of savings to the city. We are going to move forward. We are going to do everything we can to make whatever amendments that they’ve asked for,” said Keashen.

The county said it’s commitment is ultimately to minimize redundancies and improve the financial health of its municipal partner.