What Happened When Camden, New Jersey Defunded The Police

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Police were disbanded in Camden, New Jersey in 2012 and replaced with a community-focused county force. The move has come with pros and cons, according to residents. In this photograph taken Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, a Camden police officer talks with a young boy on the stairs of a church in Camden, N.J. The Camden police force is about to be disbanded and replaced with a new county police department. Camden County officials say it’s a way to get out from under a costly union contract and bring more police to the street that consistently ranks as one of the nation’s most dangerous. But unless police unions agree to the change, many officers could lose their jobs. And those who remain will see their take-home pay reduced. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Across the country calls are growing to defund or disband the police after the murder of George Floyd. Though the Minneapolis City Council made headlines for its unanimous vote to disband its police department and replace it with a community-led safety model, the idea is not a new one. Police were disbanded in Camden, New Jersey in 2012 and replaced with a community-focused county force. The move has come with pros and cons, according to residents.

“Our officers are guardians, they’re not warriors,” Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli told NBC New York. “The difference is significant. We now have three times as many officers on the street, we have a model of community policing that was formed with the input of the residents of the city. We have a much safer city.”

Unlike other cities where police and protesters got embroiled in contentious confrontations, Camden has been relatively calm, reported NBC New York. In fact, Joseph Wysocki, chief of the current Camden County Police, marched with Black Lives Matter protestors in the city.

Once consistently cited as one of the most vioent cities in the nation, crime has dropped by nearly 50 percent, reported CNN. Residents and officers also seem to have a much more amicable relationship with one another.

“It’s better to be walking around and talking to people than just passing by in the vehicle because you’re not really getting to know anyone if you’re in your vehicle the whole time that you’re patrolling,” Camden Officer Virginia Matias told NPR after she got out of patrol car to interact with residents in 2015.

Former President Barack Obama also praised Camden’s community policing model, saying the “city is on to something” because the department was “a symbol of promise for the nation.”

Cappelli also said the department has hired more Black and brown officers since white people are the minority in Camden, but activists Pastor Amir Kahn and Kevin Benson disagree. They told NBC News disbanding the city’s police department and replacing it with a county one white-washed the force.

“If the Camden city police department had what the Camden County police department has now, it would’ve been just as successful and you wouldn’t have had most the individuals coming from the outside,” Kahn said. “Camden city police force was a lot of community people. It was black and brown, it was people who look like me. But now what you have is a new police force, which is majority white.”

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 73: Jamarlin Martin

Jamarlin makes the case for why this is a multi-factor rebellion vs. just protests about George Floyd. He discusses the Democratic Party’s sneaky relationship with the police in cities and states under Dem control, and why Joe Biden is a cop and the Steve Jobs of mass incarceration.

Min. Ojii BaBa Madi, who is a lifelong Camden resident, echoed Kahn’s statements.

“The demographics of the city do not reflect these demographics,” he said. “With a white chief, as thoughtful and progressive as he is, and only one African American captain out of seven, both the dynamics and optics of race are a problem,” Madi said in an email to CNN.

Madi does credit the city’s officers with their willingness to have “productive dialogue” and said the city feels safer than it used to.

Wysocki points to policies that make it mandatory for officers to knock on doors and get to know the residents of the community they will serve, de-escalation training and body cameras for officers, a ban on chokeholds, force being used as a last resort, etc. for the improvements.

“We came up with what we believe is a very progressive use of force policy,” Camden Chief of Police Joseph Wysocki told Yahoo Finance’s YFi PM. “One of the biggest things you want to do is [establish] the duty to intervene. We’re dealing with individuals and human beings. Our police officers are not Robocop. Sometimes you aren’t perfect, but it’s the other officers that have to look out for you.”

This means if Derek Chauvin had been employed in Camden, the other three officers with him would have been mandated to make him remove his knee from Floyd’s neck.

“I think you see a lot less use of force and a lot fewer injuries when you institute those changes,” Director of New York University’s Policing Project Barry Friedman told Yahoo Finance.

Camden isn’t perfect, and it’s a lot smaller than Minneapolis, but experts point to it as the best model/case study for those looking to defund the police.

“What we’ve learned is that this can be done and the country needs to follow this example,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told ABC News. “It was done in Camden and it can be done in other places around this country. It should be.”

People around the country still have opposing views about defunding the police, despite Camden’s successes.

Delrish Moss has been in law enforcement for 36 years. He served as a longtime officer with the City of Miami before becoming the first permanent Black police chief in Ferguson, Missouri after Michael Brown was killed. He is currently Captain with the Florida International University Police Department.

He said while Camden has had some successes, there have also been pitfalls.

“Camden remodeled their policing services, and while they like a lot of what they accomplished, they are also seeing some drawbacks to the new model,” Moss told Moguldom. “That is why we have to take a comprehensive approach and not just have an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the current climate. We have to think this through long and hard because the future is at stake.”

Moss acknowledged the need for police reform, but does not support defunding altogether.

“While it is important to continually work to improve the law enforcement profession and look for new an innovative ways to better serve our communities, defunding is not the way to go because it will only serve to have bad unintended consequences that will live far beyond today’s crisis,” Moss told Moguldom.