One key to Camden’s turnaround: City, county, and state leaders decided in 2012 to dissolve and reform the police department, a radical and politically risky move. Another key: City leaders—the police chief, the mayor, and City Council—have taken a holistic approach to the city’s problems, turning to local churches and nonprofits as allies.
In the community, ministry workers and pastors I spoke to say they’re seeing change both on the streets and in the hearts of the people they serve.
“We’re seeing what happens with right policing,” said Ernest Grant II, lead pastor of Epiphany Camden.
HOW DID THIS TURNAROUND HAPPEN? It seemingly began with a risky political maneuver. In 2012 the city, in conjunction with the state and county, decided to dissolve the police force entirely. Officials created a new, nonunion force from scratch, where training had a new emphasis on de-escalation tactics and community policing.
In the process, local leaders made enemies of the police union, a situation no politician wants to be in. “[The police union] did not want to be a part of the process,” said county executive Lou Cappelli, a Democrat who led the effort to reorganize the department under county control. “They were putting their interest ahead of the residents.”