If Camden Can Do It, So Can Your City!

 

We’re training everyone the same way to shape the culture of the department… The department’s new manual for use-of-force training emphasizes ‘the sanctity of life’ and the importance of a ‘moral compass.’

[The following is excerpted from an article by Emily Belz on March 29, 2018 in “World Magazine.”  You can read the full article HERE.]


Camden’s New Day

A crime turnaround in a New Jersey city shows how a reformed police department can contribute to community flourishing

“…Homes on ‘Heroin Highway’ in North Camden now have potted plants outside and laughing teenagers hanging out on a porch after sunset. Police officers walk down a quiet block once controlled by drug dealers…

“Today, the drug set is gone, and a teacher leads a class of little kids down the street holding a rope. Little League season is starting soon at a new, nearby baseball field, which a few years ago was a needle-littered haven for drug users.

“Camden, N.J., infamous for its violent crime and drug trade, has seen a remarkable turnaround driven by a reformed police force. In 2012, violence was at its peak: 67 murders in the city of 77,000. That year Chicago grabbed headlines as the U.S. city with the most murders. But measured by population, Camden’s murder rate was almost five times that of Chicago’s.

“Five years later, the crime statistics from 2017 showed homicides at a 30-year low. Homicides have dropped 66 percent from the 2012 peak…. From 2012 to 2017, Camden achieved a 26 percent drop in violent crime.

“One key to Camden’s turnaround: City, county, and state leaders decided in 2012 to dissolve and reform the police department, a radical and politically risky move. Another key: City leaders—the police chief, the mayor, and City Council—have taken a holistic approach to the city’s problems, turning to local churches and nonprofits as allies…

HOW DID THIS TURNAROUND HAPPEN?

“It seemingly began with a risky political maneuver. In 2012 the city, in conjunction with the state and county, decided to dissolve the police force entirely. Officials created a new, nonunion force from scratch, where training had a new emphasis on de-escalation tactics and community policing.

“In the process, local leaders made enemies of the police union, a situation no politician wants to be in. ‘[The police union] did not want to be a part of the process,’ said county executive Lou Cappelli, a Democrat who led the effort to reorganize the department under county control. ‘They were putting their interest ahead of the residents’…

“[Mayor] Frank Moran recalled that his chambers were filled with protesters, and people called him a union buster. But Moran, who grew up in Camden, said he has no regrets about the department reorganization…

Chief Scott Thomson

Police Chief Scott Thomson, who had spent his career with the police in Camden, launched the new Camden County Police Department with reforms. The department hired back about half of the previous force, with a new emphasis on community relationships.

“Camden police officers recall feeling in the old days like an occupying military force in a city controlled by drug dealers. After the reorganization, officers began giving their cell phone numbers to residents, meeting with neighborhood pastors and other community leaders, and working with local ministries serving prostitutes or gang-bound teenagers. The department’s new manual for use-of-force training emphasized “the sanctity of life” and the importance of a “moral compass.”

Tyrrell Bagby in downtown Camden. (Corey Perrine/Genesis Photos)

“On a recent March morning, Officers Tyrrell Bagby and Michael Agron—both Camden natives—set out on street patrol. Bagby, part of the force since 2013, said he has to replace his boots every year because the officers walk the streets so much

“Later as Bagby drove through North Camden in his patrol car, he neared a woman who was walking down the middle of the street. He slowed down and explained that this woman had been attacked by dogs as a child and was mentally ill. He said the officers know about her and let her be. He navigated around her…

“[A local African-American pastor] said Camden police now seem better trained on de-escalation, on avoiding implicit bias, and on getting services for the poor instead of locking them up. When he talks to officers, he doesn’t feel they’re ‘on alert,’ but engaged in a real conversation…

“Despite the good signs, Camden still faces its challenges. The week I visited, the police department was in turmoil because an officer was caught on camera repeatedly punching a suspect. Lt. Kevin Lutz, who oversees training at the department, was visibly frustrated. The department had trained officers against this kind of behavior, and officers here wear body cameras.

“Lutz was visiting roll calls at the different police substations to underscore that the behavior in the video was unacceptable—though an investigation of the full circumstances around the video is still ongoing.

“Excessive force complaints against the police department have been dropping overall. From Lutz’s perspective, the most important thing the new department has done is to repeat training for officers over time. ‘We’re training everyone the same way,’ said Lutz, to ‘shape the culture of the department…’”


  • Read the full article HERE.