October 31, 2015
President Obama on Saturday morning touted the Camden County Police Department during his weekly address, which focused on the need for criminal justice reform in America.
The president said "we can disrupt the pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. I believe we can address the disparities in the application of criminal justice, from arrest rates to sentencing to incarceration....
"That’s why over the course of this year, I’ve been talking to folks around the country about reforming our criminal justice system to make it smarter, fairer, and more effective.
"In February, I sat down in the Oval Office with police officers from around the country. In the spring, I met with police officers and young people in Camden, New Jersey, where they’re using community policing and data to drive down crime."It was the third time in recent days that Obama has mentioned the community policing efforts of the Camden County department in regards to criminal justice reform.
In remarks made at a meeting of the 122nd International Association of Police Chiefs Conference on Tuesday in Chicago, the president mentioned the progress seen in Camden.
"Earlier this year I went to Camden, New Jersey, where they used to have complete mistrust between the department and local residents, and where the crime rate was sky high," Obama said. "And they're now using community policing and data to drive down crime. They’ve got a war room with cameras trained on hotspots around the city. And they’ve got software that lets community residents direct those cameras on where drug dealers or gangs are congregating. And that way local residents feel that they’re not just being spied on, they're partners with the police....
"The police even bought two ice cream trucks with drug forfeiture money," the president continued, "and in the summer drove them into some neighborhoods where gangs had taken over and drug dealers were peddling on the streets, and otherwise the street was empty. They drove those ice cream trucks, planted them there, and had police officers giving out free ice cream. And suddenly the community started coming out, and the drug dealers started fading away. All of a sudden the street corners where criminals were dealing drugs had police officers dishing out free chocolate chip.
"But in all of these efforts, the goal was to get the community involved before a crime takes place; to build trust before a crisis erupts," Obama said. "And officers then feel more welcome to their communities, citizens are more likely to cooperate with the police. And that makes us all safer."
On Oct. 22, the president hosted an Arm Chair Discussion on Criminal Justice with Law Enforcement Leaders at the White House. The 60-minute panel discussion with Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and U.S. Attorney John Walsh of Colorado was moderated by Bill Keller, editor-in-chief of the The Marshall Project and attended by law enforcement officials, including Camden County police Chief Scott Thomson.
Obama noted during the course of the discussion that reliable crime data enables law enforcement to better identify possible problems in police-community relations.
"Point number two – we’ve got the outstanding Chief of Camden, who I had a chance to visit – a great example of community policing and data driving down crime, and regaining trust from the community," Obama said. "I mean, the chief here has got sort of a war room that has cameras on some of the hotspots around the city, but it’s not considered Big Brother because they’ve set up software where the community can direct the cameras so that they don’t feel like they’re being spied on from the outside, but rather it’s a tool for the community to monitor what’s happening. They’re then sending that in, and the Chief has trained – retrained his entire department.
"First thing they did when they brought in new recruits, they just put them in the neighborhoods where they’re going to be serving, and they had to walk basically for 24 hours, right?" he said. "And if they needed to go to the restroom, they needed to get to know some people. And so they started meeting local businesses.
"And the chief talks about sometimes we know who the drug dealers are, and instead of arresting them – where they’re just going to be released – he’s going to have an officer stand right next to them and talking to them, and asking them why are you doing this," he said.
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This is the full text of the president's weekly address, according to the White House:
Hi, everybody. Today, there are 2.2 million people behind bars in America and millions more on parole or probation. Every year, we spend $80 billion in taxpayer dollars to keep people incarcerated. Many are non-violent offenders serving unnecessarily long sentences.
I believe we can disrupt the pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. I believe we can address the disparities in the application of criminal justice, from arrest rates to sentencing to incarceration. And I believe we can help those who have served their time and earned a second chance get the support they need to become productive members of society.
That’s why over the course of this year, I’ve been talking to folks around the country about reforming our criminal justice system to make it smarter, fairer, and more effective.
In February, I sat down in the Oval Office with police officers from around the country. In the spring, I met with police officers and young people in Camden, New Jersey, where they’re using community policing and data to drive down crime. Over the summer, I visited a prison in Oklahoma to talk with inmates and corrections officers about rehabilitating prisoners, and preventing more people from ending up there in the first place. Two weeks ago, I visited West Virginia to meet with families battling prescription drug and heroin abuse, as well as people who are working on new solutions for treatment and rehabilitation. Last week, I traveled to Chicago to thank police chiefs from across the country for all that their officers do to protect Americans, to make sure they’ve got the resources to get the job done, and to call for commonsense gun safety reforms that would make officers and their communities safer.
And we know that having millions of people in the criminal justice system, without any ability to find a job after release, is unsustainable. It’s bad for communities and it’s bad for our economy.
So on Monday, I’ll travel to Newark, New Jersey to highlight efforts to help Americans who’ve paid their debt to society reintegrate back into their communities. Everyone has a role to play, from businesses that are hiring ex-offenders to philanthropies that are supporting education and training programs. And I’ll keep working with people in both parties to get criminal justice reform bills to my desk, including a bipartisan bill that would reduce mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders and reward prisoners with shorter sentences if they complete programs that make them less likely to commit a repeat offense.
There’s a reason that good people across the country are coming together to reform our criminal justice system. Because it’s not about politics. It’s about whether we as a nation live up to our founding ideal of liberty and justice for all. And working together, we can make sure that we do.
Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend. And have a safe and Happy Halloween.