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A Safer Camden On The Horizon

Camden Revitalization will Pave the Way for Reduction in Crime

As the author of the Camden Revitalization Act, I’ve read with some concern recent reports citing Camden as the most dangerous city in America. While I do not believe that the high crime rates in the City of Camden will slow the momentum towards revitalization one bit, I do believe we have to look to ways to mitigate this disturbing trend.

We’ve always realized that the high crime rates in Camden would be a hurdle to revitalization efforts. However, even as Camden was being given its now-infamous distinction, we’ve seen $3 billion in private capital being invested into the city’s neighborhoods, it’s downtown and the waterfront. Revitalization is happening as we speak, and I doubt very much that the pace will be diminished due to new evidence of a problem we always knew was there.

The Camden Revitalization project is a work in progress, part of an unprecedented 10-year plan to bring the city back on track. One of the most essential parts of that plan is improving education and economic opportunities for city residents. As we look to factors contributing to the high rates of violent crime in the city, we have to acknowledge the feeling of hopelessness and despair that Camden’s children inherit at an early age.

Many feel that their options are limited and that they have nowhere else to turn but crime to achieve true success on the mean streets of Camden. As new economic opportunities arise, and the quality of education increases to produce engaged, well-educated contributors to society, I predict a socioeconomic shift in Camden, away from hopelessness and towards hope. Empowerment is quite possibly the biggest deterrent to crime there is, and will have a long-term impact on the way the city’s youth apply themselves to succeed.

However, we also have to look at short-term methods to bring immediate relief to the residents of the city who live with the urban realities of crime.

We should examine a redeployment of police to ensure maximum efficiency. Attorney General Peter Harvey has already suggested instituting a police mapping system, so that police officers can target high-crime areas, but we have to look to other methods as well.

We should look to moving many of the police’s routine work to a civilian-based work force. When crime is running rampant on the streets, we shouldn’t have police officers sitting behind a desk. We can improve police visibility by assigning civilians to work the desk jobs, and at the same time we’re creating more jobs for everyday citizens of Camden.

We should reintroduce the State Police into Camden, in order to not only bolster the existing city police force, but also to analyze and recommend the best practices that should be followed by the Camden police. We can also have the Attorney General review future contracts, to ensure that they have the flexibility required to allow police to be fairly compensated, but at the same time to reenforce that the police serve the people and not the other way around.

We’re also looking at ways of giving children an alternative to crime, such as the recent decision by the Economic Recovery Board to build a Boys’ and Girls’ Club in East Camden. The facility will serve 3,000 additional students and provide them with a wholesome outlet to grow while protecting them from the realities of crime in Camden.

And, most importantly, the people of Camden have to contribute. Citizen-participation in the form of neighborhood watches has proved effective and empowering in many other high-crime urban areas, and parents need to step up responsibility and be more active in the lives of their children. True crime reduction begins in a strong family setting, with morals and good character reinforced through loving and attentive parenting.

While some may believe that the high rate of crime is a nail in the coffin to efforts to reinvigorate Camden, I see this as another challenge which we shall overcome. Camden has already come too far to turn back. I believe that, should we stay the course, a safer Camden in which to live, work and play is just over the horizon.

Senator Wayne R. Bryant serves as State Senator representing parts of Camden and Gloucester Counties, including Camden City. He was the architect behind the Municipal Rehabilitation and Recovery Act, designed to revitalize Camden. In the Senate, he serves as Chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and as a member of the Senate Education Committee.