By Christie Duffy
Gov. Christie came to Camden today to celebrate the sweeping changes made to Camden’s police force just over a year ago.
“While it’s too early to declare victory, there have already been some real signs of progress in curbing crime in Camden,” Christie said.
Progress like a police force that’s about doubled the size. Camden County took over policing the city last year. And a new wave of recruits graduating today will bring their total manpower to almost 390 officers.
They’ve also made technological advances like installing license plate readers and over 160 cameras across the city, as well as license plate readers. And police have been working to build relationships with the community they serve.
But all of this still wasn’t enough to save 24-year-old Ernesto “Pete” Torres. He was gunned down in April.
“They chased him down, shot him three times and he passed away before ambulance back here,” said Cary Solvedila, whose son was murdered.
Torres’ mother has been praying for her son’s killer to be captured. Authorities say the alleged murderer was on the run. Until yesterday. U.S. marshals arrested 23-year-old Jonathan Cruz of Camden in Massachusetts.
“I just thank god he was captured,” Solvedila said.
“What we’re putting forward is an effort not just to reduce the number of crimes as a statistical success but to make people feel safer in their communities. Unfortunately, this tragic incident took this woman’s son from her and there is nothing we can do to reverse that. That best that we can do is try to secure the neighborhood to try to prevent the next act from occurring again,” said Chief Scott Thompson.
Camden has historically ranked among the most dangerous cities in the nation. But today the governor held it up as a model for other crime-ridden cities. And he rattled off the results.
Motor vehicle thefts in the city are down by nearly half, compared to two years ago.
Violent crime overall is down by a quarter. And murders in the city have declined by 30 percent.
Residents here say they see the changes in Camden City’s policing.
“You know in the rain, in the snow, they are all out there walking. It’s impressive,” Angel Cordero said.
But all here also agree that taking back the city is a job that’s not finished yet.
“You cannot walk the streets of Camden at night safe. You can’t do it. It’s better during the day at night no way. There is still a lot of work to be done,” said Cordero.
The police force has budgeted for manpower of over 400. They plan to reach that goal by year’s end. All in an effort to keep Camden’s streets safer.