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January 23, 2018

Freeholder director: Camden continues to rise

Opinion Police
Carroll - Patrolling Camden Streets with Police Department Thom Carroll, File/PhillyVoice

Camden County police Officers, from left, Vidal Rivera, Tim Freeman and Luis Sanchez stand at 4th and York streets during a foot patrol on June 28, 2017. The county police chief says community policing with more officers on foot or bikes is a primary reason for a huge decline in murders so far this year.

Looking back on 2017, we can see our county seat turning a very sharp corner in its transformation into a stabilized municipality. This foundation is made up of a new industrial and corporate base to drive Camden into the future. A sense of hope and change is in the air and it is tangible to anyone that steps foot inside its borders. This alteration has been spawned in much the same way that manufacturing plants did during the Industrial Revolution more than a century ago.

Let’s look at some of the city’s crime statistics from last year:

Homicides are at a more-than-30-year low, meaning that the 2017 homicide numbers are about 50 percent less than 2016 and a reduction of 67 percent from 2012.

Source/CamdenCounty.com

Louis Cappelli Jr.

Overall, Part 1 crimes in 2017 were just over 4,100, and in order to find a comparable year you would have to go all the way back to the 1960s.

At the end of the day we are talking about almost 3,000 less crime victims annually than in 2011 and, more importantly, significantly less funerals being held by families in Camden.

To put that in proper perspective, by contrast 33 percent of the city is under the age of 18, meaning many city residents have never seen crime rates this low in their lifetime. Think about that for a second, a significant subsection of this city has never seen crime this low as long as they have been alive.

That said, police officers cannot revive a city unilaterally. In fact, they are but one branch, mind you a very strong one, on a large tree. The other branches are made up of education, economic opportunity and a strong social safety net that doesn’t allow the most vulnerable to slip through the cracks. This tree needs a well-fed root system fed by community engagement, job training programs and strong leadership. Right now, all facets of this network are working in a coordinated effort to create a better city and county, and are pulling in the same direction.

Moving forward, continuing to raise the high school graduation rate, keeping kids from dropping out of school and investing in educational infrastructure will consistently aid public safety in the city. For instance, high school dropouts are nearly four times more likely to commit crimes than high school graduates. Since Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard was appointed, Camden’s graduation rate has rose 17 points and the dropout rate has been cut in half.

We have seen the poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, drop 25 percent in the most updated statistics released in 2017. The economic rebirth is starting to take hold putting more residents back to work and providing access to jobs that did not exist in past years.

The bottom line here is progress has been made on a variety of different fronts. That said, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we can say mission accomplished.

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Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. is a resident of Collingswood and the architect of the Camden County Police Department.