It’s now three years into Camden mayor Dana Redd’s first term. In another year she is slated to stand for re-election.
So far, this quiet unassuming chief executive has taken some of the boldest gambles of any mayor ever to sit behind her desk. Those risks include a controversial plan, which has gained national attention, to disband her own police department and outsource its operation to the county government.
At least one expert has said he has never seen a police change done this way, especially in a city commonly labeled as “the most dangerous” in the nation.
“I don’t know that this has been done before,” Louis Tuthill, a criminal justice professor of Rutgers University said in a recent published report. “I have never heard of it.”
Redd eagerly agreed last week in an interview, but added that radical surgery was necessary in a radically challenged city.
“No, this has never been done before,” said Redd of the change which will effectively fire her entire current department in a city routinely called poorest and most crime ridden in the nation. “Because it’s never been done before, we’re being watched nationally and statewide.”
In the midst of Redd’s stunning political high wire act, some observers are predicting that she is also gambling with her chances for re-election next November.
So far, the public safety proposal has hit a number of politically sour notes that have the potential of turning the whole thing into a political albatross to hang around her neck come election time.
The city has fielded complaints from residents, not only about efforts to disband the department, but about the current level of police response time — which some say has dipped and become nearly non-existent since the announcement of her plan.
“I’m hearing horror stories,” said former Camden mayor Aaron Thompson, who contended that police response time has taken a nose dive despite the continued soaring crime rate and murder rate in the city.
“I hear complaints that people call, and the police never show up. Fortunately, I’ve had no need for police,” said the former politician, who is now in his 80s. “I seldom see a police officer on the street.”
Another former mayor, Gwendolyn Faison, said there is little guarantee the new arrangement will work.
“There’s no information on the track record of something like this,” she said.
One barometer of success pointed to by skeptics is that despite the fact that the new department is supposed to be regional, very few of the other townships in Camden County have been willing to sign up for it.
Redd admits that transplanting a new county-run police department into the city of Camden has turned into a painful and sometimes messy process.
“Like any surgery, it’s messy,” Redd agreed. She conceded that sometimes the patient - in this case, the city - feels that things are getting worse. But, she said, until the transplant is in place, you won’t know the outcome.
In the meantime she said that many residents she has spoken to are eagerly awaiting the new department.
“They’re asking when are we going to get our new department,’” said Redd.
She said Camden “can’t arrest our way” out of its current record high homicide rate and soaring crime rate. She said she simply wants to stabilize the city’s crime statistics so that a more holistic approach can be used in addressing problems.
Her proposal calls for dissolving the current 260-member municipal police department to form a 400-member regionalized police department, based in Camden with a “metro division” to focus on the city. The proposal calls for the closure of the current 141-year-old department and the creation of a new, cheaper agency to be run by the county, one that will put more boots on the ground. One way the new regionalized police department would save money is by doing away with the existing union-negotiated police contract.
The messiness seemed to get worse last week when the FOP, which represents the current officers on the force, voted 142 to 62 against a county package that would have dismissed litigation against Redd’s new plan.
So far Redd’s new bold experiment has left quite a few heads shaking. Even NAACP state president James Harris has expressed misgivings about the changeover.
In brief remarks, Harris called the plan to dismiss the Camden Police Department as “wrong” and “unjust.” and pledged his organization’s full support.
“The NAACP will use all of our resources to stay on this issue, and to bring national attention to the disrespect and the unreasonable approach to bringing about police reform in the city of Camden,” Harris said.
“Do not eliminate the Camden Police Department. Find ways of improving it, but do not eliminate it,” he urged.
John Williamson, president of the Camden FOP, representing Camden’s police, refused to speculate on how firing the police department would impact Redd’s political future, other than to argue that Redd was on the wrong side of what he called a “civil rights issue.” Williamson argued that civil rights entered the picture since Camden is one of the most diverse police departments in the state - with one of the poorest and largest minority populations.
Though under intense political fire, Redd remained unfazed in a recent interview about her term of office..
“We need to do something bold and creative,” Redd said of her plans. “We cannot move the city forward unless we address public safety.”
Former councilman Ali Sloan El, who has helped to spearhead opposition to the new police plan, said Redd had better look to her own re-election possibilities.
Sloan El, who calls himself “the People’s Champ,” said that opponents of the plan are betting that a court ruling this April will allow a referendum on the ballot next November on the issue of the police outsourcing. If the referendum gets the green light from the courts, he said, it will be on the ballot at the same time Redd was running for re-election.
According to Sloan-El, even with her current strong support in the city’s Democratic machine, the opposition stirred up by the referendum could spill over into Redd’s popularity, and leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters who would normally support her.
“It’s going to be hard for her,” said Sloan-El last week. “The referendum will set up whoever opposes her. Whoever opposes her will have a chance because of the referendum.”
Sloan El , who spent time in prison for a corruption conviction while a councilman, said that besides the cops referendum, there will also likely be a change-of-election referendum that will ask voters to support a change from current partisan elections. That would mean candidates would run without party labels and without overt party backing, a process that could help underdogs and independents.
Sloan El believes the ripple effect from voter support for such a referendum could splash back on Redd’s administration as well, whether she is re-elected or not.
“I don’t make my decisions based on [my] re-election prospects,” Redd said. “I’m not positioning myself for re-election. I’m just doing what I think is best for Camden.”
She said her record will speak for her.
“We’ve been stepping,” she said. “In three years, I think we’ve done six years of work.”
In a city often accused of mismanagement and waste of taxpayer dollars, Redd has had three straight years of budget reductions and awards of $69 million and $61.4 million in Transition Aid to Localities from the state. State officials also praised her for “demonstrating fiscal prudence.” And she has accomplished this in a climate in which three previous mayors have been indicted on corruption charges.
Redd is dismissive of those who complain that she is giving away her power by handing control of the city policing to the county. She believes she is empowering herself to do more by handing over police operation to the county.
“What’s the good of all that power if it’s not effective in solving the problem?”
Marchelle Roberts, 23, lives in Camden; works in Camden; grew up in Camden; and most importantly, loves Camden — a city listed as one of the poorest, most dangerous and most homicide-plagued municipalities in the nation.
The reason Roberts loves Camden is simple, she says — the Camden City Children's Garden.
Roberts is one of 32 people, mostly Camden residents and minorities, employed at the center, located adjacent to the New Jersey State Aquarium. Fifteen of its employees are Camden youth.
To hear the youth and adults talk about the place, the name might well be changed to the Garden of Eden.
And yet despite the lavish praise from people like Roberts and others who work there, the Camden Children's Garden is being eyed by the state for budget pruning and possible elimination.
According to Mike Devlin, who along with his wife spearheaded the development of the four-acre, educational and nonprofit development, the state wants to take over this small parcel of land that Camden residents have come to see as a little piece of paradise.
If the state goes through with its plans, the move will chop away the jobs of those 32 employees, who swear that their lives have been changed by the remarkable work of Devlin, a kind of urban Johnny Appleseed, and his Camden assistants.
In a letter last month, the state Department of Treasury told Devlin to remove the Children' Garden's property from the plot.
The state proposed that the Camden City Garden Club, which runs the garden, could rent a few offices and one greenhouse, but that the plot must be transferred to its for-profit neighbor, Adventure Aquarium.
Though the state has not disclosed the aquarium's plans for the site, a Treasury spokesman has said that the aquarium's planned expansion would be additional economic development for the city.
The state's notice came after three years of fruitless negotiations to get the garden to move.
The two sides disagree on who owns the land. The state claims ownership; Devlin says the land belongs to the city.
It will be particularly devastating for Marchelle if those currently investigating the deed and tax documents find in the state's favor - three of her family members work there.
"Their jobs here are definitely threatened," said Devlin.
At a rally/press conference last week attended by state Sen. Don Norcross, Camden Mayor Dana Redd and other officials, some 100 residents rallied with them waving signs saying, "Save the Camden's Garden," and "Where Will We Go?"
Ironically, the rally for the Garden occurred at the same time another group of residents were protesting outside Camden City Hall. This other group was there to keep city and the county from dismantling the city's police department and replacing it with an outsourced law enforcement entity to be run by the county government.
Both groups spilled into the quadrangle outside City Hall at the same time.
Some residents have expressed the concern that the Camden Children’s Garden is being systematically dismantled by outsiders under Redd's leadership.
The state has already issued a March 31 eviction notice for the Garden. The police department is expected to be discontinued somertime during that period also, as new recruits from the new agency are brought in to replace most of the current officers.
Though the city administration had backed the dismantling of her police department to be replaced by an outside agency, Redd has indicated that she would not back the ousting of the Chidren's Garden.
The garden, she said, must stay.
Meanwhile Donald Norcross, brother of the powerful boss of the Camden County Democratic machine, reportedly has been attempting to try to help mediate the dispute. He said he was bringing Treasury officials together with Devlin on Tuesday.
Part of the dispute has been over who owns the land, said Devlin. He said up until the mid-1990's when a dispute arose, it was his assumption that the land on which the Garden sat was the city's, not the state's. The matter revolves around deed and tax documents, a matter currently under the scrutiny of the courts.
Meanwhile Marchelle is continuing her work as an administrative assistant at the facility where she feels she and her family have found opportunities they could never have found elsewhere.
"I can honestly say I love it there," Marchelle said in a phone interview with the Tribune from her home. "As a foster child, my [foster mother] would bring us there for the programs. They treated us more like a family there. I've known Mike Devlin all my life. The children and the Garden Club speak volumes for what he has done in the city for youth and as an environemental advocate. I grew up with it. My mother grew up with it."
In keeping with that tradition, she says she often walks her little brother and sisters over to the center to keep them off the cold mean streets of Camden.
"I guess all we can do is wait and see what happens. Take it a day at a time."
PNC Bank, through its “Grow Up Great” philanthropic wing, will make sure Camden youth grow up smart.
The non-profit initiative will breathe new life into the academic prowess of Camden, N.J., youth when it opens the new library at the Early Learning Research academy during a ribbon-cutting at the center’s Cooper Street location Monday morning.
“We started the ‘Grow Up Great’ program in 2004, and we based our corporate commitment to early childhood education on the belief that all children should be exposed to great early learning,” said Jane Canfield, PNC’s senior vice president of Client and Consumer Relations. “Studies by educators throughout the years show children with access to adequate early learning succeed and learn much better than those that don’t.”
PNC employees volunteered their time and energy by donating new books, building shelves, laying down carpet and preparing reading corners. And this collective volunteering is rewarding in a number of ways, Canfield said.
“Early on, we thought about how to deploy volunteers, since we had a strong commitment to get our employees involved,” Canfield said. Volunteerism is a real important part. We’ve had so many organizations that need help and grants; but we’ve had stakeholders and caregivers tell us that volunteerism is actually more important.”
To coax employees into giving more of their time, Canfield said PNC instituted a program that grants employees 40 hours of vacation time if they volunteer on site.
“The other interesting part is we collect books throughout all our buildings and branches, and we say to the employees who can’t come out [and work at the site directly], that if they can donate a brand new book, we will give you one hour of Grow Up credit,” Canfield said of PNC’s policy of a one-to-one exchange of Grow Up credits for hours off. “The children in the centers are all economically challenged and underserved and deserve new books.”
PNC Financial Services Group started the Grow Up Great program and its Spanish-language initiative, Crezca con Éxito, in 2004. Since then, the $350 million, multi-year program has served almost two million youth. The Camden location will be the sixth library built through the Grow Up Great plan.
But why Camden?
“Dr. Gloria Santiago just opened the center in September 2011, and as she was building the site, she reached out to us to learn about ‘Grow Up Great,’” Canfield explained. “A member of our staff met with her staff and came away so impressed with her drive, enthusiasm and dedication to the children of Camden … we just knew we wanted to do something.
“Dr. Santiago energized the community,” Canfield continued. “We were very impressed with her and the work she’s doing. It seemed like the perfect match for us and our employees.”
The library at the Early Learning Research academy will be the second site in Camden in which PNC has chartered a library. And although PNC isn’t actively recruiting for sites, it will listen to proposals and does plan on building more libraries in the future.
“We don’t have a plan — a goal of building a certain number of libraries in a certain matter of time. This is more about building partnerships and relationships, and filling a particular need,” Canfield said. “And if it’s something they really need and want, and it’s something they have the space for and are interested in it, then we can work together.
“We’ve built six and are looking for opportunities,” Canfield continued. “We are really happy to provide colorful and save learning environments.”
Camden Mayor Dana Redd is going where few mayors have gone before.
The quiet, unassuming municipal leader is firing her whole police department -- in the most dangerous and impoverished city in the country.
Redd plans to replace Camden's current battle-tested veterans with a group of officers hired through the Board of the Camden County Freeholders. Over 1,000 expressions of interest have come in from potential applicants after applications went out in mid-October. The applications are being processed by the freeholder's office. Freeholders are the equivalent of the county commissioners in other states.
As recently as 2008, Camden had the highest crime rate in the U.S., with 2,333 violent crimes per 100,000 people, while the national average was 455 per 100,000. The county seat of Camden County, and just across the Delaware river from Philadelphia, the 9-square mile city of 77,000 has been routinely labeled the poorest and most crime-ridden city in the nation.
Redd, in the third year of her first term, says her move to outsource Camden police to the county will cost taxpayers less in police union benefits and will put more "boots on the ground."
"We need to do something bold and creative," said Redd, as she at a table in her office. In orange scarf and green camouflage blouse, she looked serene, despite the urban powder keg that critics contend exists right beneath her office window, and the sometimes vicious political struggle she waged recently with her police union. Only 20 minutes before the interview started, residents reported a shooting only blocks away from City Hall on 27th Street.
The move to replace police, often seen as sacred cows in most municipalities, has met with resistance, including lawsuits and protests.
Camden Fraternal Order of Police President John Williamson questioned Redd's motives, hinting that the move may be tied to the current anti-union sentiment rife in the state's Republican governor's office, where Chris Christie holds sway.
"This is just a form of union-busting," Williamson told the Tribune. "This whole thing is unproven and untested. It's an experiment with the lives and safety of Camden residents."
Redd, a staunch Democrat in a Democratic stronghold, rankles at such accusations, claiming she fought tooth and nail to find a better deal for Camden police.
"I can rest at night knowing I've gone above and beyond the call of duty to try to get concessions from the unions prior to the layoff deadline," she said.
While Redd lauds the additional resources that the new regional department will bring to fight crime in her city, critics point out that half or more of the 401 officers that will be brought in under the "metro division" will be greenhorns, unfamiliar with Camden turf.
Training of the new recruits is expected to take five to six months, once replacements have been selected.
Redd said she takes full responsibility for the new arrangement, no matter how many critics claim that she is merely a puppet, taking orders from the heavyweight powerbrokers in the state's political arena, like Democratic fundraiser and party boss George Norcross III, and Republican Gov. Christie.
Redd said the buck stops at her desk and her only boss is arithmetic -- numbers that add up.
"At the end of the day when all is said and done, it will be my name on this decision, not George Norcross' or Chris Christie," she said.
According to Redd, her situation is similar to what Barack Obama inherited, in that her own legacy has been tied to a wrecked administration that appeared to have been driven into a ditch before she took over. After several years of a state takeover of the city, the city's budget gap jumped from $9 million to $69 million.
She said that money spent on Camden is not wasted, as many believe. According to Redd and other officials, without Camden, property values would plummet in places like Voorhees and Cherry Hill.
Even much of the city's crime comes from the suburbs.
A recent survey during a program called Operation Padlock found that 90 percent of the buyers of drugs each day came from the suburbs, though the dealers lived in the city. Drugs are a second economy in Camden with an annual income estimated to be the size of Camden's municipal budget. That drug flow fuels much of the city's violence.
"We don't believe we will be able to arrest our way out of the problem," Redd has said.
She said she was not giving up on reducing crime. She was just changing strategy. She emphasized that the streets will have to be safe if the city expects to attract enough business to survive. “We cannot move the city forward unless we address public safety,” she said.
Law enforcement authorities in Camden are asking for the public’s help in identifying the person who shot five people, two fatally, on the night of Oct. 6 and are offering a $15,000 reward for information.
The dead were Jewel Manire, 19, a young mother, and Kalil Gibson, 20. Manire and Gibson, along with three other females were shot as they sat inside a car on Hull Street, in the Fairview section of Camden, at 11:40 p.m.
According to investigators, a masked Hispanic male carrying a gun and a machete entered the parked car and opened fire, killing Manire and Gibson and wounding the others. The gunman then pushed aside the driver's body and drove off with four of the victims inside. The wounded were a 20-year-old woman shot in the face, a 16-year-old shot in the head and another 16-year-old shot in the arm. The killer is described as a Hispanic male about 6 feet tall. He wore a black mask over the lower part of his face and yellow latex gloves.
The Citizens Crime Commission will pay $7,000 just for the arrest of the shooter and $8,000 upon conviction. Anyone with information should call the Citizens Crime Commission at (215) 546-TIPS.
Stiff Sentence in Crime Spree
A federal judge sentenced a defendant to 128 years in prison this week for a brutal crime spree that included several home invasions, robberies and torture.
Judge Legrome Davis sentenced Lamar Staten to 128 years in prison for, among other crimes, the abduction and torture of Brandon Coleman. Coleman, a former drug dealer, was severely beaten and tortured with a hot iron for money he didn’t have.
According to federal investigators, on March 24, 2010, Coleman’s former girlfriend, Jacklyn Smith, allegedly lured him to her apartment in Yeadon as part of a plan to rip off drug profits he was thought to have. Emmanuel Duran, John Bowie and Staten were waiting, allegedly armed with several guns. When Coleman entered the apartment he was bound at gunpoint, stabbed 20 imes and burned with a hot iron. In the course of the crime spree Staten and the other defendants allegedly conducted a home invasion in the 6000 block of Cedar Avenue where they stole $800 in cash, jewelry and a laptop computer. They staged another home invasion in the 5900 block of Cedar Avenue where they stole an iPod and an Xbox electronic game. They allegedly tried to force their way into another residence in the 500 block of South Redfield Street and fired several shots.
Responding police pursued the defendants for 45 minutes. Investigators said that during the pursuit, Staten called Smith and allegedly had his co-conspirators strip Coleman naked and dump the bleeding victim into the street. Duran and Bowie were previously convicted in the case and are awaiting sentencing.
After a four-day period with no homicides in Philadelphia, a 29-year old Latino male was gunned down Wednesday night, Oct. 17 in the 400 block of West Cambria Street.
Police responded to a report of gunfire at around 10:47 p.m. They found the victim, identified as Domingo Rivera, of the 2800 block of North Leithgow Street, lying on the ground. Rivera, who had a rap sheet of 13 arrests, according to court documents, had been shot multiple times. He was pronounced dead at the scene. As of Tribune press time, there have been no arrests and the motive remains undetermined.
In her unprecedented move to abolish the Camden police department, is Camden Mayor Dana Redd straying onto the wrong side of civil rights for her residents and her police department?
A barrage of complaints from the NAACP and numerous residents claim the popular Camden mayor, while working to clean up the city's image, is denying Camden residents their constitutionally guaranteed right to redress. NAACP officials contend that Camden is being treated like no other city in the state because of its overwhelmingly Black and Latino population.
Meanwhile, Redd has denied there is any violation of civil rights and contends most residents she has spoken with eagerly support the plan.
Rallies, protests and petitions have sprung up around the issue over a police department that, in recent years, has also changed from predominantly white to predominantly Black and Latino.
"This is an experiment," said one NAACP official at a recent rally against the plan outside Redd's fourth floor office at City Hall. "This cannot stand. [City and county officials] do not have right to fire police in the most dangerous city in the country."
Camden, long ranked as one of America's poorest and most dangerous cities, is disbanding its current police force and replacing it with a new county-run regional force. According to Redd, the plan will cost $7 million less to operate, and the additional monies saved could used for other programs.
But residents like Dwaine Williams and others complain they have not yet seen a budget for the force.
"It's been well over a year and I have yet to see a plan that makes sense."
Mark Willis, a self-employed businessman in Camden, said he had yet to see a county plan either, despite layoffs already underway in the current department. Willis was outraged by plans to disband the municipal police department in favor of a county department.
"What kind of city gives up its police department?" asked Willis. "This is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on a population in America. The blind are leading the blind."
James Harris, president of the New Jersey NAACP said that what is happening in Camden under Redd's administration was as bad as the South in the 1960s.
At the City Hall anti-abolition rally Harris said the police problem in Camden had outgrown the city and become a national issue.
"This problem has left Camden," said Harris. "It is now a national issue...We have representative from the national office looking into this."
According to Harris, 3,000 of Camden's 77,000 residents signed a petition calling for a referendum on the issue. Harris said that despite the thousands of signatures on the petition the Redd administration's legal team went into court and blocked the referendum. The residents are now appealing the issue.
At the same rally where Harris spoke, a national representative of NAACP also weighed in. Marshal Taylor, deputy director of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund urged Camden residents to continue to fight.
Harris called for the "Emancipation of Camden," which he hinted was facing a new form of slavery caused by "bossism and corruption of leaders."
Mayor Redd has said in the past that she believes she is doing the right thing for the residents. In a recently published quote she said she was seeking to restore the rights of Camden citizens, not take them away.
"I will not allow our rights - the right to live free of fear, the right to allow our kids to play safely in front of their homes, the right to walk to the corner bodega, the right to live - to be glanced over just because we call Camden our home," Redd told a gathering of businessmen discussing Camden's future at the Adventure Aquarium.
In the NAACP statement to the freeholders, Kelly Francis said what is going on in Camden should be of concern not only to Camden residents but residents throughout the surrounding area.
"The process and impact of dismantling the Camden City police department should be a matter of deep concern fo rall communiities, but especially those of color in the Camden area."
Added Harris: "This is a civil rights issue of our time - if the [local government]can overrule the constitution and fire an entire police department without the will of the people being heard."
Citizens Bank has donated $10,000 to Legacy Youth Tennis and Education (formerly known as Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education) to help support after-school tennis and education programs in three schools in Camden.
The money, in addition to funds from other donors, will support after-school programs at Camden’s Cooper’s Poynt Elementary School, R.C. Molina Elementary and Pyne Poynt Middle School. A total of 300 students will benefit from the after-school programs that run from 3 to 6 p.m.
“Because its programs have a positive effect on shaping the lives of potentially at-risk children, Citizens Bank has a strong, ongoing partnership with Legacy Youth Tennis and Education,” said Henri G. Moore, senior vice president and director of public affairs for Citizens Bank and a member of the Legacy board of directors.
“The funds will help keep unsupervised children off the streets four afternoons every week throughout the school year and focus their energies on homework and learning the great sport of tennis.”
Legacy has served young people in Camden for 20 years and will work with Rutgers University – Camden and Camden City schools to deliver the after school programming.
“We’re grateful for the ongoing participation and contributions from Citizens Bank,” said Kenny Holdsman, president of Legacy Youth Tennis and Education.
“We’ve reached many more children in recent years in large part because of Citizens Bank’s financial support. Our students are getting the chance to develop not only as student-athletes, but also as leaders and good citizens.”
The money from Citizens Bank will help subsidize funds that Rutgers University recently won through a 21st Century federal grant. The goal of the program is to provide low-income children with the skills that are required to improve themselves both on and off the tennis court.
The partners seek to create a positive and safe space for children to build their cardiovascular capacity, strengthen their academic and athletic achievement and develop a lifelong love of tennis. The program aims to lower the body-mass index in 90 percent of the program participants, while maintaining student attendance at 70 percent.
Family health and tennis nights are held monthly to introduce parents to the game of tennis. During the family nights, parents learn about the benefits of physical exercise and the emotional discipline that organized sports, such as tennis, can provide.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced a state takeover of the troubled Camden school system this week.
Christie informed city officials that the state will assume control of both the educational and financial management of the schools. Under a state-run system, the local school board will have an advisory role. The state will also choose a new school superintendent. The state take could be in place in six to eight weeks. The district has 20 days to respond.
“The system is broken, and we need to take responsibility for fixing it,” said Christie at a news conference Monday at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden.
If approved the state will assume control of a district in which 90 percent are in the bottom 5 percent in New Jersey. Less than 20 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in language arts literacy, and just 28 percent of 11th -graders are proficient in math.
Once approved, Camden would become the fourth urban school district under state control, after Paterson, Newark and Jersey City. This would be the first state takeover initiated by Christie.
The Republican governor’s plan has some bipartisan and local support, including Camden’s Mayor Dana Redd and some city and school officials.
In a statement, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Gloucester County Democrat, said, “We recognize this is a dramatic change, but its time has come.”
Redd expressed optimism about the takeover.
“We recognize as leaders that we have an obligation to give children a real chance to succeed,” she said.
The state’s largest teachers’ union expressed some reservations about the planned takeover.
“It is always preferable to have public schools managed by local communities, and the citizens of Camden must be assured that they will continue to have a strong and respected voice in reforming a public school system that meets the needs of all Camden students,” said Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association. She said the association will withhold judgment until it sees more details.
The state’s desire to takeover Camden schools raises several questions.
Where is the evidence that a state takeover has made a difference? Where have previous state takeovers led to sustained improvements in the students’ academic success? Have state takeovers led to better management or improved fiscal control? Locally, has the state takeover of Philadelphia schools led to significant improvements?
According to the New York Times at least 20 states have taken control of local school districts in the past two decades.
Jersey City has been under state control since 1989; Paterson since 1991 and Newark since 1995. The track record has been questionable.
Urban school districts remain largely poorly run and funded, regardless of whether they are under local or state control. A state takeover will not make that much difference unless school districts undergo real proven educational reforms such as improved teacher effectiveness, increased parental involvement and engagement, better district management and increased funding.
CAMDEN, N.J. — The state of New Jersey moved to take over the Camden school district Monday, seeking to fix what officials said is a broken system that allows thousands of students in one of the nation's poorest cities to fail each year.
Gov. Chris Christie's administration filed the first legal paperwork necessary to assume control of a district in which 90 percent of the schools are among the bottom 5 percent in performance statewide. The district has 20 days to respond. Christie said the intervention could be complete as quickly as six to eight weeks, but it could be challenged in court.
"We're taking the lead because for too long the public school system in Camden has failed its children," Christie said, flanked by the mayor and some school officials at a news conference held at a high school.
Inaction, the Republican governor said, is "immoral."
Once approved, Camden — a crime-plagued city of 80,000 across the Delaware River from Philadelphia — will be the fourth urban district in New Jersey under state control. The others are Paterson, Jersey City and Newark, the state's largest city.
Camden's four-year graduation rate in 2012 was only 49 percent. Of those who do graduate, only one out of four do so by passing the state's high school exam. Only 2 percent of students score 1550 or higher on their SATs, a metric defined as indicating a high likelihood of college success and completion.
"The system is broken, and we need to take responsibility for fixing it," Christie said.
The state is already the main funder of the Camden school system. Christie said an August report assessing the needs of Camden's schools convinced him that more needed to be done in the city, which has 16,000 schoolchildren, including 4,000 in charter schools.
A transitional leadership team will immediately begin a 90-day review of all school operations, the administration said.
Once the state's takeover plan has been approved, the governor said he would appoint a new superintendent. A search is already under way, and the state plans to work within that system. It will also appoint three additional members to the school board, which will become advisory.
Christie said the state would also move to revamp curriculums, begin a search to put full-time teachers into slots now occupied by a rotation of substitutes, and ensure that every child has the necessary books and instructional materials.
The plan could also include a portfolio of new charter or Renaissance schools.
"We will exert whatever control we need to exert in order to bring success, Christie said, but stressing that he sees the intervention as a "partnership" between the state and city government and school officials.
In its request to the state Board of Education for full intervention in Camden, the state said the school board and school administration failed to effectively run the schools.
The application said the poor outcomes in Camden are not the result of a lack of resources. The city, which receives special state aid because of its poverty, spent $23,709 per student in the 2011-12 year, compared with a statewide average of $18,045.
Christie said the state would "be happy" to be involved in collective bargaining and said he did not speak with unions before moving to intervene in Camden. The state's largest teacher's union expressed reservations about a takeover.
Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, said that the track record for state-run districts is "questionable" and that Camden residents must be assured they will have a voice in the process.
"It is always preferable to have public schools managed by local communities," she said.
Rosemary Jackson, a Camden teacher, said she believes the state hasn't adequately funded the schools and she thinks the plan will fail.
"They have yet to talk to parents, yet to talk to teachers," Jackson said.
Ahmad Muhammad, a father of eight children in the school system, came to the announcement opposing the move. But listening to Christie changed his mind.
"I'm hopeful," he said. "It's worth a chance."
Mayor Dana Redd said there will be a series of community meetings to inform people of changes.
"The current status quo is failing our kids," Redd said. "We cannot wait any longer." -- (AP)
The streetwalker on Broadway Avenue in Camden, N.J. hiked her skirt an inch as a suburban driver passed. A block away, another lady of the evening offered illicit love for five dollars to a passing stranger. Near a corner, young elementary school children — some accompanied by parents — waded through hustlers to get to Wiggins Elementary School.
Then it happened. A Camden Metro Division squad car pulled up. One of the women plying her trade on Broadway Avenue, approached the window to tell them she had just been beaten and mugged. Her pocketbook had been snatched and she was kicked and robbed, despite being six months pregnant.
The patrol car darted off in the direction of the assailant’s escape, but, a few minutes later, the car came back without the suspect to take the information from the victim. Despite her beating, the woman refused a hospital visit, saying she had to stay on the street to make more money for the rest of her children.
Several weeks into May, crime was still an ongoing concern on the streets of Camden despite the deployment of 250 new officers on the streets of this gritty river city beginning May 1.
Last month, after the newly-named Metro Division officially took over policing the nine square miles of Camden from the original 141-year-old department, now dissolved.
Much had changed in the city, even in a short span of two months. New squad cars and new faces now cruise the streets. In many cases, the new cops were smiling rookie faces, a majority of them white, but they saluted snappily to their Black deputy chief and other minority brass, many of whom are former Camden officers. There were quite a few civilian aides helping out at the police administration building as well.
But the battle against crime in Camden remained an uphill one as the Metro committed itself to fending off a summer mini-surge. Both the neighborhoods of Parkside and Fairview have been saturated with walking beats of two and sometimes three officers since May.
A recent visit to these areas evinced a stark difference to the other areas of the city like that where the prostitutes strutted. The neighborhoods where dealers had been suppressed by the walking patrols were invariably free of the old menacing look of Camden of only a month ago.
The smiling faces of officers walking patrols are everywhere, as visitors occasionally came out to greet them and tell them of their appreciation. They were like fresh troops landing on the shores of Normandy.
One resident who greeted the officers was Maurice Raz. Displaying an old picture ID from the Associated Press, he said he had once been an AP reporter.
Chatting with the police, after halting his bike and while still sporting a bike helmet, he praised the new level of “boots on the ground” he had witnessed.
By now many more residents seemed to be coming out of their houses, convinced that as long as such levels of manpower allocation could be maintained, these areas could remain at least superficially drug free — and children could enjoy outdoor recreation free of terror. The walking beats were assisted by eye in the sky cameras and special microphones designed to register gunfire.
But it was unclear, even with these force multipliers, how long this level of boots on the ground could be sustained in tough financial times and with plans by the county to make the patrols countywide. So far, other municipalities have been resisting signing on with the new regionalized concept of policing.
Whether more police will be added if and when other municipalities sign on with the new county police was unclear.
This is not the first time Camden’s streets have been cleared of the drug salesmen like the swipe of a hand over a chess board. It has happened before, shutting down the neighborhood once referred to as the “hub of drug dealing in South Jersey” — North Camden. At one time it was estimated that close to 200 open air drug markets operated in Camden in neighborhoods with easy ingress and egress from Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. The city even provided shelter for the drug addicts in the form of hundreds of abandoned houses, many of which were regularly boarded up or demolished whenever the city had the money to do so.
One county prosecutor estimated that the income generated by the drug trade was as much as the city’s annual budget of over $100 million. Even so, national studies show the average earnings of individuals involved in drug dealing are not appreciably higher than available market alternatives. Such studies conclude that the desire to move up through the hierarchy and make the earnings of a gang leader was enough incentive for ambitious young men to pay their dues working minimum and at times less than minimum wage.
Court testimony indicates that crime in Camden, especially drugs, is as much an industry as many others. The dealers work early morning shifts from 6 a.m. to lunchtime and late into the evenings to cater to the heavy flow of suburbanites coming into the city to buy drugs while taking breaks or going to or leaving work.
Police attempted to cope with suburban buying by using drug laws to confiscate vehicles used in the sale or purchase of drugs in the city. But buyers avoided this problem by parking blocks away and walking to the scene of purchases.
Now cameras have been deployed as well as the special mics as eyes and ears of law enforcement.
The face of prostitution in Camden and neighboring Pennsauken was changed recently with the elimination of the “girlie bars” and other activities along Admiral Wilson Boulevard, which used to be the best advertisement to tourists and suburbanites for the city’s one-stop vice offerings. But those were cleaned up by Republican governor Christie Whitman, who was embarrassed to have such a strip in place when Philadelphia was scheduled to host the national Republican Convention in 2000.
Whether short-term or long term, a difference apparently was being made in some sections of Camden, according to observers like state Assemblymen Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, who was a police officer at the time of the state police patrols and who has been a candidate for mayor in the past.
Wilson pointed out that the way one can tell that a difference is being made in Camden is when parents begin to allow their younger children out to play in playgrounds and front yards, where they are not likely to be hit by gunfire or assaults that occur frequently near drug sets.
Those signs were visible in Parkside and Fairview on a recent ride there.
The Metro Division came about as a result of a radical decision by Camden Mayor Dana Redd to outsource the city’s police work to the Camden County Freeholders. In doing so, Redd was following in the footsteps of previous mayors who have increasingly sold off aspects of the city in exchange for revenue stopgaps to balance budgets.