More than 200 police officers in Camden, N.J., are set to be laid off April 30. It’s part of a new policing model Mayor Dana Redd is moving forward with: transitioning from a city police department to a county force.
Despite union efforts to deter it, some rank-and-file members are applying to join the new department.
Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli said about 75 applications have been received from current Camden City cops.
“There are currently about 250 existing police officers,” he said. “Many Camden City police officers have scheduled to be fingerprinted but have not yet submitted their application. We’ve instructed potential candidates to begin scheduling their background checks and their fingerprinting immediately and to submit the applications to us by Jan. 15.”
Cappelli said the officers will be hired for the new force once officials hammer out a $5 million to $6.5 million deal with the state to fund start-up costs, and he anticipates that once Camden City officers receive layoff notices, more will apply for the new jobs.
John Williamson, with the Camden Police union, calls the move to eliminate the current police force, reckless and dangerous. He admitted he is advising his officers not to apply for the county force.
“They have not laid out any conditions for terms of employment,” Williamson said. “Officers don’t know what they would be going into. It’s just like somebody trying to sell you a car sight unseen. No intelligent person would do that.”
Federal labor laws prohibit hiring more than 49 percent of the existing officers for the new force unless the new department honors the current union contract. Proponents of the county department say getting away from that contract will allow them to hire more officers for the same money.
Freeholder Director Cappelli said the current structure is too light when it comes to officers pounding the pavement.
“Unfortunately, the city does not have the resources with the current collective bargaining agreement to provide enough officers to protect its residents,” he said. “The current police structure in Camden has about 91 officers on the street. We’re going to blow that structure up. We are going to be very light on the top of our structure, very heavy from sergeant on down.”
Cappelli said the goal is to triple the number of officers on the streets.
With 67 killings last year, Camden shattered its homicide record and has one of the highest murder rates in the nation. Cappelli says the new officers will receive eight weeks training and hit the streets by early March.