President Obama will land in Philadelphia this afternoon then make his way over to Camden County Police headquarters, to meet and discuss with department officials their efforts at improving relationships with the community.
The county department replaced the Camden city force in 2013. County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli said the change resulted in more officers on the street, more focus on partnerships between cops and residents, and lower crime.
He said Obama’s visit tells him the model is working.
“It was not an easy process,” said Cappelli. “We received a lot of criticism, but shooting incidents and murders are down 50 percent and I think it’s just a good pat on the back for our officers who work so hard.”
A revitalized Camden Police department hasn’t necessarily all positive though. An investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer late last month found that Camden police drew the highest number of excessive force complaints in the state in 2014.
Police Chief Scott Thomson took part in a police reform task force meeting held by Obama last March in the Capital.
“Each of the allegations of excessive police force have been unfounded, they’ve been investigated, none of them have occurred, and we’re very proud of the way our officers conduct themselves,” said Cappelli.
Organized labor has also criticized dissolving the old police department. But those backing the county model said the old union contract from the city department could not be reformed enough to re-imagine policing New Jersey’s most challenging city. That old contract, for example, gave officers a bonus for working the day shift. Critics cite that as prime example of how the contract prevented Camden from putting enough officers on the street. The force now has 359 officers, under the old Camden P.D. it had about 260.
The President is also likely to comment today on the recent decision to name Camden a Promise Zone city — an initiative launched by his administration last year to give poor neighborhoods and cities an advantage when competing for federal grant money to increase economic opportunities.
He will deliver remarks at the Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in northeast Camden. It’s unclear whether the President will visit the site of last week’s deadly Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia.
Nyeema Watson helps run the civic engagement program at Rutgers-Camden and said better policing is great, but is hopes the President will recognize residents’ efforts to clean up their own streets.
“In order to strengthen the entire city the focus just can’t be on policing,” said Watson. “It has to be on building up residents and building up youth in other ways and that’s the work we’re doing through out civic engagement efforts.”
“The President’s visit is an opportunity for him to see that we’re turning a corner in terms of crime but also that we’re also turning a corner in terms of creating a healthier, safer community overall,” added Watson.
It will be the President’s first trip back to New Jersey since last December.