President Barack Obama spoke in Camden, N.J., at the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Monday, highlighting steps taken by the city that has struggled with one of the nation’s highest violent crime rates to create economic opportunity, help police do their jobs more safely and reduce crime.
The steps include increasing the number of police officers on the ground and changing the way officers interact with the community. The Camden County Police Department has instituted a community-policing initiative, and just last month, the city accepted the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge and was separately designated as a Promise Zone.
“Violent crime in Camden is down 24 percent,” Obama said. “Murder is down 47 percent. Open-air drug markets have been cut by 65 percent. The response time for 911 calls is down from one hour to just five minutes. And when I was in the center, it was 1.3 minutes, right when I was there. And perhaps most significant is that the police and residents are building trust.”
The president also highlighted how communities are adopting the recommendations of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The recommendations can be utilized to build and maintain trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.
In addition, over the next few weeks, members of the president’s Cabinet will be traveling across the country to identify best practices and highlight other cities where local leaders are partnering with federal agencies, foundations, private sector partners and police departments to improve the quality of life in their communities on issues from health care to education to transparency in policing.
“If we as a society don’t do more to expand opportunity to everybody who’s willing to work for it, then we’ll end up seeing conflicts between law enforcement and residents,” Obama said. “If we as a society aren’t willing to deal honestly with the issue of race, then we can’t just expect police departments to solve these problems.”
New Jersey has seen several fatal police shootings involving unarmed Black men recently. One of the most notable situations is the case of Jerame Reid, who was unarmed and shot by an officer in South Jersey. The incident was caught on police dash cam video.
“I am gratified that President Barack Obama will visit Camden, N.J. to discuss bridging the gap with police and community,” said Walter L. Hudson, chairman of the National Awareness Alliance in South Jersey. “I believe there must be continuous dialogue and actions taken to address the systemic issues of police accountability and community residents’ trust towards the officers sworn to protect the people they are serving.”