By Dari Kotzker
More boots on the ground. That’s what Camden residents are now seeing as the Camden County Police Department’s Metro Division gets underway. The new force officially takes over on April 30, but starting this week, Metro Division officers have been deployed into the streets of Camden for field training, pairing up former Camden City cops and training officers.
“They are training in the neighborhood where they will actually be assigned and patrol, so they’re getting to know the neighborhood,” said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. “Part of their task right now is to identify a problem in the neighborhood and to come up with a remedy to solve it. The only way they get to do that is talk to residents, knock on doors. It’s been a very warm reception.”
“After all the violence that’s been going on in our city, I really think it was a good idea that they step up their game,” said Camden resident Abigail Echevarria.
This initiative is now being largely funded by a state grant, but in the future, it will be paid solely by the city tax base and the state, and shared service agreements. So far, 250 officers have been hired for the Metro Division and by fall, there will be 400. One hundred fifty-five of them are former Camden City police officers.
“We have some of our best qualified former Camden police officers out there as field training officers. Officers are excited to be part of a new organization and we want to reduce crime, if not eliminate crime,” said Deputy Chief of the Camden County Police Department Metro Division Joseph Williams.
But not everyone joined the new force. Tracey Hall, a 20-plus year Camden City cop, decided to retire because she was uncomfortable with decisions that were being made at the new division. Among them, the loss of civil service protection, union backing and the lack of experience of some of the new officers.
“They hired 70 guys from the shore. Urban policing is different than shore or suburban policing, and the fact that they’re putting them on the street so fast with no training, it’s not safe for them, it’s not safe for their partners, it’s not safe for the residents,” Hall said.
“We are really satisfied and pleased with the quality of candidate we’ve attracted,” Cappelli said.
The county says all officers are receiving the appropriate training. Some community members still feel they should’ve been part of the decision-making process, not just city and county officials.
“There hasn’t been any public safety hearings where they could voice their opinions on how they feel,” said First Refuge Missionary Baptist Church Interim Pastor Rev. Levi Combs. “The council, mayor or the freeholders haven’t asked the people what they wanted.”
The Camden county freeholder director says he’s confident that within a year there will be a significant difference on the streets of Camden, which will help to bring more businesses and investment to the city.
“What the city really needs is jobs. At the heart of all this is poverty. Until we solve the poverty issue, we can’t solve all of the issues of Camden City. This won’t solve all problems, but it helps us keep going in the right direction,” Cappelli said.