How the war on crime in Camden, New Jersey, impacted business

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sometimes it's easy to think Memphis is the only city facing big problems like violent crime, poverty, a shrinking tax base, and low police morale. Camden, New Jersey, faced the same challenges, and finally decided to do something bold because the crime rate was keeping jobs and investment away.

Now, just two years since re-starting its police department, businesses want to come in. We were there when Jason Ravitz opened up the city's first new grocery store in 40 years.

He said, "How can you expect any business to come into an area without a safe city?"

When WREG's Richard Ransom asked what finally made him decide Camden would be worth the investment, Ravitz replied, "I think the formation of the Camden County Police Department and the ability for them to get into the 21st or even 22nd century with technology, manpower, boots on the ground. The community policing. The safety issues got secured."

In Camden, they have a saying that 'a job stops a bullet.' Ravitz's supermarket hired 100 people.

"You keep the younger people employed. Keep them busy. Teach them a skill. Give them hope and an opportunity for a career, they don't have to turn to the other bad things that can happen," he said.

More big projects are on the horizon for this city the finally grew tired of living in fear. So, how did it happen? Camden County Excecutive Lou Cappelli and his fellow commissioners took a simple vote to form the new Camden County Police. It only replaced the city's police department, not the sheriff's office.

If other municipalities in Camden County want to opt-in, they can. Cappelli said the sell to voters was easy.

"The sale was simple. Public safety is the most important function of any local government and we needed to make changes to provide adequate service to residents and they understand that," he said.

The state of New Jersey chipped in $10 million in start-up money and waived civil service obligations for one year. That allowed the new department to lower the average cost per officer, including all benefits, from $180,000 a year to $90,000.

That was the tough part. But Capelli says there was no other choice because "mayors for decades past gave away the store."

It got ugly. There were death threats and the police union was furious.

"(The union) started a lot of misinformation that tainted the decision-making process for many of the union," Cappelli said.

In the end, 80 of the city's officers left or retired. The rest of the officers applied to join the new county department. All but five were given a badge.

"They came over with the same salary and because of a lot of the vacancies created, most of them have been promoted to a higher rank. So, most of them who stuck with us are very happy and doing a tremendous job," Cappelli said.

One of those, officers told us it's fun to be a cop again, in part, because he's trusted more to do his job.

Sgt. Ralph Thornton said, "As a sergeant, I have the power if I have a problem area, I can reallocate my manpower to handle that area just by doing it. I don't have to ask permission."

That trust boosted police morale, But so have the results. Murders are down 56 percent (from 2012-2014), shootings are down by 48 percent, property crime is down 30 percent and overall violent crime is down 22 percent.

Also, a once polarized relationship with the public is getting better.

"They (the public) tell us what's going on and we act. Prior to the Camden County Police Department, this didn't take place. We were more of a reactional police department. Now we're pro-active. We're there all the time," Sgt. Thornton said.

County Commissioner Cappelli, who is a Democrat by the way, offered this advice to Memphis: "You cant be afraid to do things because what the unions will say because of what the backlash will be. thre residents of your city know what's best. "

Does Memphis need to follow Camden's lead? That's best left to others. But, as the station On Your Side, WREG is committed to advancing the conversation because it's going to take all hands on deck.


  • Cityisajoke

    Boy…’s not just this city a joke but also this news channel !!!!!! NOTHING BUT A JOKE. I’ll be happy when all the snakes come out. Why hide?? All of these hidden agendas is getting tiring. As a tax payer in this city, we deserve so much better than any of you A/HOLES. when will you people stop it with all the games.

  • Calypso

    “Public safety is the most important to any local government . . ” Well somebody needs to explain that to lil clueless mayor ac wharton and his boyfriends conrad and flynn. They have destroyed the value of this city by stripping down the city police and civil servants for this city. Wish we could vote them out in one election and start rebuilding this city again too.

  • John T. Dwyer

    Uh-Oh! It’s November sweeps time again. Channel 3 will be doing a few of these fluff pieces trying to garner high numbers and emmy awards.
    The serious question: How does what they are doing in Camden relate to what they do in Memphis?

    As it was explained to me by Clyde Umholz and Jim Vaugh of the FBI….”You cannot compare what goes on in Memphis to any other city in the United States. Demographics are different. Geography is different. Economics are different. Personnel usage is different. Cooperation between the public and local government is different.”
    The FBI in their Uniform Crime Report published each year also warns not to compare statistics between cities. This is not what it is for.

    I believe that TV must do weird bits like this to stay in business. That’s the nature of it. As Edward R. Murrow once stated, ” We are all under the same tent with the clowns and the freaks.”
    I believe Channel 3 sent Ransom up to NJ in order to attempt to get him an emmy for something, other than just showing up for work on time.
    Doing a piece like this, and then having a “Does it Work?” on enemas piece, does not exactly add to his serious journalism resume’. Neither does the pandering, “Pass it On” hand out the cash to the leeches bit.

    Suggestion: Wait until spring and then have Richard walk along the outskirts of Beale, with a hidden camera, and alone.
    He’ll get his emmy and a lot more!

  • Gary

    I just cannot see any hope for Memphis for a long,long time ,need to blanket the city with police . When there is extra money hire more police ,work on the truancy problem in the schools ,hold parents accountable. It is just a mess ,now they attacking UPS drivers ,and know when they get caught all they have to do is play some basketball at night.Elect somebody that has Memphis in their heart as their home town and wants to be proud of Memphis. Quit voting for somebody just because they are black like Janice Fulilove who will not even show up to vote .

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