By the end of August, the city of Camden will begin turning the wheels on its plan to layoff the city’s 270 police officers and to dismantle the entire police department by the end of the year. It is becoming increasingly clear that the city, currently in the midst of a homicide epidemic with 39 reported murders this year, is in serious need of a major law enforcement overhaul. The current system, fraught with abuses including several documented instances of officers planting drugs, is (unsurprisingly) more concerned with its own preservation than upholding any semblance of justice. This is pretty common behavior among police departments, but the Camden P.D. seems to stand head-and-shoulders above the rest: absenteeism is running up to 30% and officers on perpetual paid leave are taking care of their union obligations rather than fighting crime, or whatever it is they do. In a word, police are comfortably ensuring salary hikes and solid pensions rather than doing something about the “mini war-zones” broiling in the city’s worst neighborhoods.
The Camden PD will be replaced by a regional, county-run police force, a move proposed by Mayor Dana Redd, who seems to be one of the few civic leaders around with the gumption to stand up to the macho bullshit exuded by police unions and fear-mongering fraternal orders. This plan seems to be a step in the right direction; it will put 400 officers on the streets of Camden and will streamline bureaucratic organization of law enforcement in all of Camden County. Creating a bloated, monolithic security force, however, is only a superficial solution for a city plagued by many problems, crime rates only being side of the puzzle. Poverty, poor infrastructure, and underperforming schools (Camden is one of 31 Abbott school districts in NJ) all go hand-in-hand with high crime rates; an effective and sustainable solution needs to likewise address the core of the problem.
Well, cops are bastards, and a regional police force would still be run by LEOs who could very well perpetrate the same abuses as the current police department. More oversight provided by such a bureaucratic monolith could make room for whistle-blowers, but could likewise make necessary future reforms more difficult to carry out; a concentrated power base can entrench corruption and systematize brutal tactics increasingly commonplace among the nation’s precincts. From the NYPD to the Oakland police department, the cops are becoming militarized in response to the possibility of urban protest; fueled by Obama’s stance on medical marijuana, federal powers are superseding state and local laws the nation over. DEA raids of dispensaries in SF are just one side of the systemized curtailing of US citizens’ rights. What would a regional police force mean for New Jersey’s own medical marijuana program, with dispensaries scheduled to open later this year? Where is the current trend of centralized, militarized, police forces leading?