In 2012, Camden set a record for murders.
On Monday, President Barack Obama called the small, South Jersey city “a symbol of promise for the nation.”
“This is still a work in progress,” said Obama during a roughly 20-minute speech in East Camden. “But this city is on to something. You’ve made real progress in just two years.”
In 2013, the Camden city police department became county run and adopted a more hands-on approach to serving the struggling community.
As of this spring, violent crime is down 36 percent compared with 2012 – and the murder rate has dropped by half.
Obama said those gains have been a bright spot for residents and officers.
“They’re enjoying their jobs more because they feel as if, over time, they can have more of an impact,” he said. “And they’re getting more help from the community because the community has seen them before there’s a crisis, before there’s an incident.”
The president’s remarks at the Salvation Army Kroc Center were timely to say the least.
For the good and the bad.
Hours earlier, the Obama administration released the final report from the Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
The group was formed following unrest in places including Ferguson, Missouri, and co-chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
The task force’s 116-page report emphasizes the need for improved outreach and community policing in high-crime areas
Among its myriad recommendations: That police serve like guardians, rather than warriors, and work collaboratively with the community.
On Monday, the president also began a push to bar municipal police departments from using federal funds to buy military equipment such as armored vehicles or high-caliber weapons that serve only to “intimidate and alienate residents.”
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give the feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community, that’s protecting the community and serving them,” said Obama.
Camden also recently became one of the country’s newest “Promise Zones.”
The program makes it easier for the city to secure federal funding for initiatives aimed at tackling quality-of-life issues.
Addressing some of the underlying factors tied to the city’s long history of violent crime will likely be part of those efforts.
The work will come as the Camden County Police Department is reportedly struggling to hang onto officers and deal with complaints about excessive force.