Concerns Over Camden County Police Model in Brick City

By Brenda Flanagan

“That’s regular, everyday life. That man getting shot right there — that wasn’t nothing new,” said Newark resident Keion Paris.

Paris wasn’t shocked by Newark’s latest murder, a few feet from his front door in the South Ward. Crumpled yellow police tape marks where another man died Saturday — both shot down while the city hosted a 24-hour Peace Rally. Newark’s logged 62 homicides so far this year, ahead of last year’s tally.

“We need someone to help us, okay? Our children need help. It doesn’t start with the prison system. That’s not the key,” said mom Shanta.

What is the key? While campaigning in New Hampshire, Governor Christie suggested Newark reorganize its police department and instead install a regionalized model, just like the one he promoted in Camden. They doubled the number of cops, replaced city officers with a county police department and added a roomful of technical crime-fighting gear. Murders in Camden dropped 61 percent since 2012.

“While it’s too early to declare victory, there have already been some real signs of progress in curbing crime in Camden,” said Christie last year.

“The flame is up and it’s past burning. We’re at inferno level in the City of Newark. I think the assistance that was needed in Newark hasn’t been sent,” said activist Donna Jackson.

Jackson flatly asserts that Newark’s understaffed police department is struggling to respond across the city, and the Camden county model won’t fly in the Brick city.

“Some of the county officers don’t have a personal feel. And when you don’t have a personal connection to combating crime and creating a community relationship, it doesn’t get created and you don’t solve things and you don’t work together,” she said.

“And them coming from a different municipality, coming to our city, it wouldn’t be the same,” said Paris. “They don’t know what goes on in our city. They don’t know us.”

Former Newark mayoral candidate Shaver Jeffries says, “We don’t need the county to take over. We need our city’s leadership to implement best practices around strategy, people and accountability, as that will pay dividends.” Activist Lawrence Hamm also pans a Camden makeover.

“It’s a metropolitan arrangement as opposed to a municipal arrangement. And with the strong degree of autonomy the various municipalities in Essex County have, I just don’t think it would work here. I don’t think you would be able to dismantle and reorganize the Newark Police department the way they did in Camden,” Hamm said.

Mayor Baraka’s held multiple rallies, reached out to celebrities and promoted mentoring — his efforts drew a glowing article in the New York Times. But he says his police department’s dangerously understaffed — a too-thin blue line. His police director moved more than 100 cops off desk jobs and onto the streets, but it’s not enough. Baraka had no comment for us today on Christie’s Camden idea and the police director did not return our calls. Jackson wants the mayor to push the governor.

“If you can send 150 state troopers to Baltimore because they were having an uprising why can’t Newark get at least 50 officers extra to support our staff?” she asks.

Newark can look forward to getting 46 more rookie cops when its next class of police recruits graduates in October. But by then this long, hot and violent summer will be over.