As reported by nj.com, overwhelmed by rising crime and massive police layoffs, the struggling city of Camden pledged Tuesday to be the first municipality to join a new county police force intended to be a model for other cash-strapped New Jersey cities and towns. The city, which has one of the highest crime rates in the nation, signed an agreement with county and state officials to draft plans for the new Camden County Police Department by Sept. 30. County officials are to coordinate the formation of the department, which will then require approval of the state Department of Community Affairs.
The regional force is likely to be the first of its kind in the state. Somerset and Morris counties are considering similar arrangements. Still, it is unclear if other Camden County communities will volunteer to sign on to the force-and how much police union officials will protest the inevitable layoffs to result-making its future uncertain.
Supporters of the regional approach to policing say consolidation will take pressure off local budgets by combining administrative and back-office tasks, and at the same time bolster purchasing power to get better prices on equipment.
Under the plan, each municipality that joins the county force would dissolve its department. Because of federal labor law, only 49 percent of the officers in each town could be rehired to join the county force. Who would hire the balance of the officers, however, remains undecided.
Edward Brannigan, president of the state Fraternal Order of Police, was quick to denounce the plan, saying he feared officers hired by the county would be paid less and receive fewer benefits. He also said he was concerned that a countywide force would focus more on Camden, where the crime rate is far higher than in the suburbs. “It’s horrible,” Brannigan said. “The whole thing is horrible. This is nothing but union busting.”
The plan was not uniformly embaraced by law enforcement officials, however. The Camden County Prosecutor, Warren Faulk, said any efforts to consolidate the police force should focus on putting more police resources into the city. “The devil is in the details, and we are very interested to learn the details of the county’s plan,” he said. “The priority for the city of Camden needs to be putting more officers on the streets, and we would be receptive to any effort that achieves this end.”
Wayne Fisher, director of the Rutgers Police Institute, said the plan will live or die depending on how many communities participate, and how the cities and towns balance their services. The agreement will not be official until votes are taken by the Camden City Council on Aug. 9 and the county freeholder board on Aug. 16.