Sarah Holder writes at CityLab about a change in policing, in Camden, NJ.
In 2013, the Camden Police Department was disbanded, reimagined, and born again as the Camden County Police Department, with more officers at lower pay—and a strategic shift toward “community policing.”
That meant focusing on rebuilding trust between the community and their officers.
“For us to make the neighborhood look and feel the way everyone wanted it to, it wasn’t going to be achieved by having a police officer with a helmet and a shotgun standing on a corner,” Thomson said. Now, he wants his officers “to identify more with being in the Peace Corps than being in the Special Forces.”
A conversation with Thomson about community policing is likely to involve many such catchy maxims. “Destabilized communities,” he told me, “need guardians, not warriors.” He explained the “Back to the Future Paradox”—use technology wisely, but pair it with regular-old “Bobbies on the street.” And he stressed the idea that public safety is about access to social services, economic rejuvenation, and good schools, not just cops: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
As someone committed to seeing what the data shows, I do have to point out that—as of 2 years ago—it was too early to definitively call Camden's experiment a success.
The numbers themselves can be potentially misleading: Homicide rates, for example, aren’t necessarily a complete measure of urban violence. Just because fewer people are dying from gunshot wounds doesn’t mean fewer people are getting shot: It could also mean they’re getting better treatment, faster. One of Thomson’s Camden policies, nicknamed “Scoop and Go,” may be at work here, which mandates officers to personally drive victims to the hospital if ambulance wait times are too long. That saves lives, without really addressing the source of the violence itself. (Another possible factor: More victims are just getting to the hospital faster by calling an Uber.)