To be clear, Camden didn’t de-fund the police force, it dissolved it, at least on paper.
In 2012, the city was a war zone with a murder rate higher than that of El Salvador, making it the murder capital of the U.S. That’s not a great title to have. To address the problem, the city wanted to start many initiatives aimed at community building and redirecting how the police operate. There were only two problems. The police were resisting and the city had no money.
So the city of Camden took a big step. It effectively dissolved the city police department and handed those responsibilities to the county. In one fell swoop the city was able to slash what it spent on the police department and redirect the funds to de-escalation training, a progressive use of force program, and other initiatives that have allowed the city to reduce the murder rate to the lowest level since 1987.
The city didn’t reduce the number of officers on the street.
The key? Union busting. The original police force was unionized and each officer cost an average of $185,000. After the transfer to the county each officer, most holdovers from the city, cost just $99,000. The city had many of the same officers on patrol, they just cost $86,000 less per person, which freed up a lot of cash to pursue other things.
Camden officials love to point to their success in turning this part of the city around, and their success is laudable. But they shouldn’t be too quick to claim victory. The new county police force recently unionized and costs shot through the roof. Spending on the police now eats up about one-third of the city’s budget.