Camden Fires Its Entire Police Department

Published October 12, 2012

Camden, New Jersey officials plan to fire the city’s police force and replace the officers with nonunion county police by the end of 2012. Mayor Dana Redd says the plan will save millions of dollars and keep Camden residents safe.

Most police activity does not involve actual emergencies, notes Mike Sharp, who sells and installs home alarms in Camden. “Maybe what the city is going to be pushing is for private security to come in and handle some of this,” he said.

Responding to burglar alarms is a police responsibility in New Jersey, even though as many as 90 percent of all triggered alarms are false alarms, according to Sharp. Professors Simon Hakim and Erwin Blackstone of Temple University, who have researched the rise of private security, say the proportion is even higher: 94 to 99 percent.

Having police officers respond to such alarms is an enormous waste of money, says Hakim. Private security guards could be responsible for this instead, and call in the police only when an actual crime has occurred or is taking place.

‘Bureaucratic Monopolists’

Faced with losing hundreds of jobs, local police officials are vocally opposed to the city’s move. Camden Fraternal Order of Police President John Williamson told “this is definitely a form of union-busting.”

But Hakim and Blackstone see the weakening of police unions as a good thing, saying that these unions are “bureaucratic monopolists.”

“When there are no private police at all, the police union can demand increased salaries much beyond the productivity of policemen. But once you have competition, and the union knows that certain functions can be taken away from the public police, … it puts a lid over the payment of policemen,” Hakim said.

Already Cuts to Cops

In an interview with CNN this July, Williamson blamed this year’s rising murder rate in Camden on cuts to the police department last year when 168 officers were let go.

“When you lay off cops, crime goes up, and ultimately, people die,” he said. “You can never, ever put a price on public safety.”

But Hakim and Blackstone point out sworn officers often provide services that don’t require the skills and the training of college graduates or graduates of the police academy. Hence local governments can save money and improve crime prevention by hiring less-skilled officers for many jobs that are being done by police.

For example, earlier this year Camden hired “temporary seasonal police officers” to handle crowd control during its busy summer concert season. A class 1 special officer requires only a few weeks of training and is paid $17 an hour to direct traffic and handle crowd control and petty offences.

That’s a big savings compared to the $38 to $40 an hour that highly trained police officers might be paid to do the same jobs.

Mike Reid ([email protected]) is primus inter pares at Invisible Order, an editorial-solutions company.