By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
Several years of planning and prodding culminated today in the creation of the Camden County regional police force and swearing in of its chief, John Scott Thompson. Gov. Chris Christie was in Camden to commemorate the milestone.
“What you and the freeholder board have done, led by Director Capelli, took great courage, with conviction and perseverance, to get us to this moment in time,” Christie said.
The new Camden County Metro Division replaces the city police force. Its backers say the number of officers on the street will triple and the total workforce double when counting additional civilians.
“We will be proud when Camden is no longer in the top five of the most dangerous cities in America,” said Camden Mayor Dana Redd.
“Camden matters to everyone in southern New Jersey. It affects all of us. So we’re all in this together,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Metro, as they call it, will have 401 officers and civilians, replacing the old force of 265. One hundred sixty-five will come from the old force, but about 30 who are losing their jobs showed up to protest.
“We dedicated our lives to this city and now we’re out of work. And we feel betrayed. And now they’re setting them up to push us out of here, the people we worked with, the officers we worked with, they’re gonna push us out of here now,” said former Camden police officer Chris Kelly.
Christie said the old union made unreasonable demands and the new force will be more efficient.
“Today is not about collective bargaining. It’s about collective safety. And more importantly today, it’s about collective hope,” said Sen. Donald Norcross.
Christie said the state is contributing $10.6 million in start-up funds. Chief John Scott Thompson gave a rousing set of remarks.
“From the rookie officer to the chief of police, we will be out in the field towing the line,” said Thompson.
Freeholder Director Lou Capelli spearheaded what is essentially a city-county partnership.
“I think it’s gonna change the way police services are delivered in the future in the state of New Jersey. Once we are successful here, I would imagine other urban areas such as Trenton, Atlantic City, perhaps Newark, have to take a look at this because with the 2 percent cap, everybody’s losing officers,” said .
This is probably the most significant example of regional policing in modern state history. Its architects are convinced it’s already making a dangerous city safer.