Camden crime rate down as Christie touts policing progress on campaign trail

A Camden County officer on patrol. (WHYY file photo)

A Camden County officer on patrol. (WHYY file photo)

Gov. Chris Christie praised Camden’s county-run police force and touted declines in the city’s violent crime rate during in a campaign event in New Hampshire on Saturday, according to NJ Advance Media.

Helping transition the distressed South Jersey city’s police department to a county-run force in 2013 has been a standby of Christie’s platform since he kicked off his campaign for president in June.

In a campaign event in Camden in July, Christie touted an overall decrease in violent crime (which includes murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and claimed residents had a better quality of life.

“We’ve started to reclaim the streets of Camden for the good, hardworking citizens of Camden,” he said.

And though a Friday night murder in North Camden cast a shadow over Christie’s campaign rhetoric, year-to-date crime rates in Camden continue on a downward slide.

Friday night’s shooting death of 19-year-old Johnathan Simmons, who was found in a parking lot outside the Northgate Apartments, marked the city’s 21st homicide this year. (The shooting of a reportedly suicidal man by a Camden police officer on July 3 was not counted toward that total because shootings by police are not categorized as murder in state statistics.)

That’s down from 22 homicides through this time last year and the lowest year-to-date homicide rate in Camden since 2006.

Total violent crime is also down, from 1053 incidents through August of last year to 961 incidents this year, a 9 percent drop.

Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson attributes the declining crime rates to community policing, in which officers more actively patrol the streets and get involved with the community. He said that’s made residents feel safer.

“Their children are playing in front of their homes, and they’re enjoying their front steps. And then on top of that, they’re communicating with us in a way that we haven’t seen the people of the city connect with our officers in quite some time,” Thomson said.

“We’ve hit a tipping point in public safety where there’s far more good people on the streets than there are bad.”

Despite the gains, Thomson said police have noticed an uptick in gang violence among young people this year.

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