Camden, N.J. Facing Harder Times With Police, Fire Layoffs

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REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A resident sits in his enclosed porch in Camden, New Jersey

If rampant crime was one of Camden, N.J.’s most urgent issues, then things may be on the verge of becoming a whole lot worse.

The onetime manufacturing center, situated just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is laying off 167 of its 373 police officers and about a third of its firefighters. Mayor Dana L. Redd told a news conference on Tuesday that the weight of a $26 million budget deficit and a lack of concessions from unions has driven the city to make the tough decision.

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But the Fraternal Order of Police took out an advertisement in the Camden Courier-Post saying the layoffs would result in a “living hell” for the city soon after.

In November, Camden was named the nation’s second most dangerous city, just behind St. Louis and ahead of Detroit by CQ Press based on FBI crime statistics. Open-air drug markets flourish, and with about a third its population of 79,000 living below the poverty line, it ranks among America’s poorest cities, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Last year there were 33 homicides and in 2009, the city had 2,333 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

Stats like that may underscore the need for more, instead of fewer police officers on the street, but Mayor Redd said some of the layoffs could be averted with concessions from police and fire unions.

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“If they were truly concerned in keeping their members working during these difficult economic times, they would have committed to implementing some meaningful concessions,” Redd said of some of the unions who had not entertained negotiations.

But some Camden residents are worried the layoffs could bring more trouble to an already beleaguered city.

“This is taking jobs out of the city, taking revenue out of the city,” Rutgers-Camden student Tenyah McDonald told the Courier-Post. “Camden already was not the best place. To have this happen is going to make it even more difficult.”