PUBLISHED: 15:48 EST, 26 August 2012 | UPDATED: 07:24 EST, 27 August 2012
- Forty-one homicides already this year could beat record of 58 from 1995
- City’s police to be replaced by those from county to save money
- Almost half of residents unemployed and streets are run by drug gangs
The deadliest city in America is disbanding its entire police force and firing 270 cops in an effort to deal with a massive budget crunch.
There have been a staggering 41 homicides in Camden, New Jersey, already this year but the Camden Police Department will be replaced with a force run by the county, which supporters say will cost significantly less and allow more officers on the streets.
Some citizens worry, though that the new officers, many of them from the county police force, won’t be prepared for the tough, violent work of patrolling a dense urban city.
Gone: This officer will lose his job at the end of the year when the Camden Police Department is disbanded
Decay: The Camden police have struggled to keep up with the soaring murder rate, amid layoffs and budget cuts
The police union says the force, which will not be unionized, is simply a union-busting move that is meant to get out of contracts with current employees. Any city officers that are hired to the county force will lose the benefits they had on the unionized force.
No matter the political wrangling, the murder rate in Camden, a decaying city of 77,000, continues to skyrocket.
There have been 41 homicides in the city so far this year, including 13 in July alone. That puts Camden well on pace to break its record of 58 killings, set in 1995.
The murder rate in ten times higher than it is in New York City, 30 percent higher than New Orleans, the deadliest large city in the country, and three times higher than nearby Philadelphia.
The architects of the plan say they’ll be able to put 400 police officers on the streets of Camden — a dramatic improvement over the 270 who currently work the city, the Camden Courier Post reports.
Decay: Soaring unemployment and the flight of thousands of city residents has resulted in urban blight spreading across the city
Run-down: Residents look out over the gutter city where almost half of people are unemployed
But, it’s still less than the nearly 440 officers who were on the force just two years ago.
Last year, Camden was forced to cut 168 officers, one third of its ranks, as a result of the budget crisis. It faced the prospect of cutting even more this year.
Camden was once a bustling industrial town but plant closures over the decades have led residents and small businesses to flee.
Large plants from General Electric and RCA employed tens of thousands of workers. As those factories left, nothing replaced them and the city fell into ruin.
The shipyards where 36,000 workers would ply their trade now lie empty, surrounded by thousands of decaying and abandoned homes.
Of its 70,390 residents, a staggering 40 per cent are out of work, with many having been ‘on the scrapheap’ from the ‘formal economy’ for generations.
Run down: Crack houses have sprung up amid the boarded-up factories and burned out houses
Abject poverty: The unemployment rate in Camden skyrocketed from less than 9 percent to more than 20 percent during the recession. It has only fallen less than two percentage points doing the recovery
The population has plummeted by more than 40 per cent from its 1950 level of 120,000, but there is little hope for those who remain.
Drugs and alcohol abuse now run rife in an area that is economically deprived. More than half of all children live below the poverty line.
The city finds itself in the midst of a drug war as unemployed young men with nothing to lose battle for territory across the city.
Now, nearly one in five residents is out of unemployed — the highest rate in New Jersey.
The city has fallen into a cycle of decay — with blighted neighborhoods becoming battlegrounds over drug turf.
The beleaguered police department struggles to keep up. Officers stopped responding to minor car crashes, petty thefts and other minor complaints so they could focus on the plethora of shootings.
Last month, 27-year-old Robert Carstarphen was shot dead in an alley during a fight over drug dealing territory between members of the Bloods street gang. The following day, two more men were dead after a retaliation hit.
A row of desolate houses once home to prosperity now stand empty and broken after the fortunes of the city turned
Devastated: Many houses have simply been left to rack and ruin
The deaths brought the total number of homicides for July to 13 – making the month the city’s worst since September 1949 when mass murderer Howard Unruh left the same number dead in a shooting spree.
Last year, there were 50 murders in Camden, eight short of the record of 58 homicides in 1995. Most of the murder victims this year were male, with the youngest a 16-year-old boy and the eldest a 42-year-old woman.
Following massive state budget cuts to poor cities like Camden, Newark and Trenton, the Camden Police Department was forced to fire 168 officers in 2011 — more than one third of its police force.
‘Many organizations had layoffs. In one day, we had a decimation,’ Police Chief Scott Thomson told the Newark Star-Ledger.
As a result, arrests fell to less than half what they were in 2009 — when the city looked like it was bringing the crime epidemic under control.
A woman walks along the street in a city where most people are now afraid to go out because the of the drug gangs plaguing the area
There seems little hope of improvement in the barren area with state funding for Camden being cut
The barren streets offer little escape and many innocent people are often caught in the cross fire as drug gangs go to war
According to the AroundPhilly blog on Yahoo, one resident said: ‘We don’t have any real policing in Camden. They’re just out here to pick up the bodies.’
In the last decade, crack houses have sprung up amid the boarded-up factories and burned out houses. People live in fear of being robbed or shot as addicts roam the streets looking to fund their habit.
Most of the killings were gang members involved in drugs although there were innocent victims including a 39-year-old father of six who attempted to break up a fight.
In the 39 murder cases, charges had been filed in 17, according to police. There were 103 shootings in total from January to July this year.
Members of the local clergy have been taking part in anti-violence walks on the streets to try to build relationships and ease tension among the disenfranchised and the vulnerable.
But Young people were becoming swept up in the booming drug trade after being targeted by dealers as they face lighter sentences if caught.
Revered Heyward Wiggins III of Camden Bible Tabernacle told Philly.com: ‘Right now, we are going to funerals of a lot of victims of the violence in the city, but we would love to bring about an atmosphere where we don’t have to attend funerals.’