Crime decrease in a New Jersey town

NICK EICHER, HOST: From member-supported WORLD Radio, this is The World and Everything in It for Tuesday, April 3rd. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
So far this year, 58 black men have been shot and killed by police officers around the country.
The latest high profile case involves Stephon Clark of Sacramento, California.

When police responded to a vandalism call, they encountered Clark and shot at him 20 times. Eight of them hit him—mostly in the back. He was unarmed.

His funeral was last week.

EICHER: Amid the obvious calls for investigation into possible police misconduct is a debate over how to bring a different approach to policing higher-crime cities.

Emily Belz is a WORLD reporter in New York and she joins me now to talk about one community where authorities just started over from scratch. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY BELZ, REPORTER: Good morning, Nick.

EICHER: You reported from Camden, New Jersey and this city completely rebuilt its police department. Interestingly, it was the police union that was fighting reform efforts and the city fathers just scrapped the whole thing and started over. Can you talk to me about what you saw in Camden and how that turnaround in that city might suggest a possible way forward, a national model for reform?

BELZ: Yeah, I spent time with the police department in Camden and the thing the officers and the leadership in charge emphasized to me is that the training changed when they got rid of the department and started from scratch. They focused on training that emphasized things like sanctity of life.
So they had a new manual that they put together and they insisted on every officer going through this training no matter what special unit they were in, and they said that was really key to transforming the department.
I think that that training has led to the decline in excessive force complaints from citizens in Camden. The other radical thing that they do is partner with ministries in the city and view them as their allies. So that helps them know the citizens on every block. It helps them to know how to get services to people who are poor or have mental illness, which is an issue that we’ve seen in a lot of these confrontations between police and citizens that don’t end well.

EICHER: Emily, I want to talk to you about that before we go. I’d like to hear a little more about how the ministries work in Camden. But you have been to Camden before, you’ve spent some time in that city over the course of years. Can you talk about a few of the big changes that you’ve noticed just over time?

BELZ: It was really wild when I went back this time. It’d been two years since I visited and there are cranes everywhere on the waterfront. North Camden is really transformed. There’s a new baseball park where there used to be a drug haven. It was just an empty lot with needles everywhere. People are on their front porches. It really has less of a war zone feel than the last time I was there.
I talked to some teenagers who have grown up in Camden and they said that they’ve noticed a transformation. They feel safe being out at night. They feel like they can graduate high school and potentially get a job in Camden, which was not something that they dreamed of before. So, there’s been a safety transformation, but there’s also been a transformation economically. So it’s a holistic thing that’s happening there right now.

EICHER: Tell me a story about some of the ministry leaders that you’ve talked with in Camden. Because you did mention that the police department openly works with ministries in the city to sort of help smooth out the relationship between the police and the community. Tell me about that.

BELZ: I talked to an African American pastor who lives and works in Camden and he said that he has a really good relationship with the police in his neighborhood and his church is trying to do more with the police and just keep that relationship healthy. He was really complimentary of how they interacted with him and how they’ve handled themselves in really difficult situations.
And I’ve talked to some other ministries that we’ve profiled in the past and there’s a ministry called Seeds of Hope that works with prostitutes and people coming out of prison and drug addicts and that’s a big part of the population in Camden. They’re still struggling in a lot of ways. One of the prostitutes that I interviewed on the last trip who’s involved in that ministry passed away. So they’re dealing with really hard things, but they’re seeing heart-level transformation, which they see as the key to Camden turning around. That there’s a spiritual transformation happening, too.

EICHER: The mayor of the city is a Christian believer and that informs the way he deals with some of the ministries in town, but you had a funny story about how he has to also be a little bit wary.

BELZ: (chuckles) Yeah. Yeah, he — I asked him if there had been any questions about him being a Christian and maybe favoring ministries and he said, “No, actually, we have the opposite problem.” And the actual quote he said to me was, “Actually, we’ve got to push back because now every ministry that wants to do something comes to the mayor’s office and says ‘God gave me a vision.’” And he says, “If God gave you the call, he’s going to back you up in some way. I ain’t got no money.” And I love that quote.

EICHER: Nevertheless a good relationship between church and state in Camden.

BELZ: Yeah, they’re pretty friendly right now.

Read Emily’s article for WORLD here

(Corey Perrine/Genesis Photos) In downtown Camden, Officer Tyrrell Bagby chats with longtime resident Odessa Morton.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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