Crime drops with new police force in gritty Camden

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In this Tuesday, April 15, 2014 photograph, Camden County Metro police officers Lucas Murray, left, and Daniel Torres patrol outside the high-rise apartment building, Northgate I, in Camden, N.J. Camden disbanded its police department on May 1 and handed patrols over to the new Camden County-run department that promised more officers for the same cost, largely because it could shed provisions of a union contract that officials saw as onerous. The new department says crime dropped sharply in every category except arson in the first three months of this year, when the new department had enough officers for intense patrols in every neighborhood. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

In this Tuesday, April 15, 2014 photograph, Camden County Metro police officers Lucas Murray, left, and Daniel Torres patrol outside the high-rise apartment building, Northgate I, in Camden, N.J. Camden disbanded its police department on May 1 and handed patrols over to the new Camden County-run department that promised more officers for the same cost, largely because it could shed provisions of a union contract that officials saw as onerous. The new department says crime dropped sharply in every category except arson in the first three months of this year, when the new department had enough officers for intense patrols in every neighborhood. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

In this Tuesday, April 15, 2014, photograph, Camden County Metro police officers Lucas Murray, left, and Daniel Torres patrol outside the high-rise apartment building, Northgate I, in Camden, N.J. Camden disbanded its police department on May 1 and handed patrols over to the new Camden County-run department that promised more officers for the same cost, largely because it could shed provisions of a union contract that officials saw as onerous. The new department says crime dropped sharply in every category except arson in the first three months of this year, when the new department had enough officers for intense patrols in every neighborhood. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

In this Tuesday, April 15, 2014 photograph, Camden County Metro police Sgt. Raphael Thornton walks in a hallway of the high-rise apartment building, Northgate I in Camden, N.J. Crime has dropped in Camden since the new police department rolled into town a year ago, but it remains far more dangerous than most cities. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

In this Tuesday, April 15, 2014 photograph, Camden County Metro police officer Lucas Murray walks a beat past boarded houses in Camden, N.J. Camden disbanded its police department on May 1 and handed patrols over to the new Camden County-run department that promised more officers for the same cost, largely because it could shed provisions of a union contract that officials saw as onerous. The new department says crime dropped sharply in every category except arson in the first three months of this year, when the new department had enough officers for intense patrols in every neighborhood. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

In this Tuesday, April 15, 2014 photograph, Camden County Metro police officers Lucas Murray, left, and Daniel Torres react to what they thought was a gunshot, as they patrol a neighborhood in Camden, N.J. The sound turned out to be a car backfire. Camden disbanded its police department on May 1 and handed patrols over to the new Camden County-run department that promised more officers for the same cost, largely because it could shed provisions of a union contract that officials saw as onerous. The new department says crime dropped sharply in every category except arson in the first three months of this year, when the new department had enough officers for intense patrols in every neighborhood. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

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CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — A year after Camden disbanded its police department and brought in a new one with more officers on the street, reported crime has dropped significantly in a city that still ranks as dangerous by any measure.

After years of doing little more than responding to emergency calls, police are on intensive neighborhood patrols, a move that has sent drug dealers scattering. But residents, advocates and officials agree that law enforcement alone can go only so far to heal a city that is also among the nation’s most impoverished.

“To me, violence will always be around and so will the drugs,” said Melanie Andujar, who lives in the Fairview neighborhood and was visiting her mother in North Camden. She’s still shaken by a shooting on her block a few weeks ago. “Has it calmed down? Yes. I don’t think it will ever stop.”

Camden, a city of 77,000 across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, has had decades of decline as the once-booming industrial city saw nearly all its manufacturing jobs disappear by the early 1990s.

With relatively few local businesses and low property values, most of the city government’s revenue comes from state taxpayers. In 2011, state aid reductions contributed to a financial crisis for the city government, which had deep layoffs in all its departments, including cutting loose nearly half its police officers.

Crime spiked. In 2012, a record 67 people were slain in the city — 18 times the national rate.

In the words of one advocate for crime victims, lawless people turned fearless as police disappeared from the streets.

The bold effort to fix the problem was to get rid of the city police department and the union contract that city officials found onerous. The city contracted with the Camden County government, which built a new police force. The Camden County Metro police patrol only in Camden, not its suburbs. Clerical, analytical and crime-scene processing jobs once done by gun-carrying sworn officers were given to civilians, and most of the cops were put on beats on the street.

The new department — featuring many of the same officers and the same chief — took over officially on May 1, 2013. When a new class graduates from the academy and hits the streets in July, the city will have more than 400 police

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