Crime drops with new police force in Camden, but city remains among nation's most dangerous

The Associated Press

In this Tuesday, April 15, 2014 photograph, Camden County Metro police officers Lucas Murray, left, and Daniel Torres patrol outside the high-rise apartment building, Northgate I, in Camden, N.J. Camden disbanded its police department on May 1 and handed patrols over to the new Camden County-run department that promised more officers for the same cost, largely because it could shed provisions of a union contract that officials saw as onerous. The new department says crime dropped sharply in every category except arson in the first three months of this year, when the new department had enough officers for intense patrols in every neighborhood. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

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The Rev. Jeff Putthoff, a Catholic priest who founded and runs a nonprofit that teaches young people technology skills, said drug dealers have "gone mobile," still selling but no longer doing it from one spot.

"I'm actually asked to buy drugs more than I ever have been before," he said.

Still, police Chief Scott Thomson said clearing the corners is important in advancing the force's mission of making people feel safe. "A byproduct of open-air drug markets is flagrant violence, particularly gun violence that occurs in neighborhoods."

Law enforcement alone cannot solve the issues that lead people to sell or abuse drugs, he said.

"The role that police can play in that is mitigating opportunities to commit these offenses," Thomson said.

Belma Ramos, 45, said she was never driven from her porch by criminal activity nearby. But she says it's nicer now along State Street. "Since they put in the Metro, it's cooled down a lot," she said. "It's been OK."

But Putthoff said it's a mistake to think that a drop in crime means the city is suddenly healthy.

"We know that the chronic stress that happens to people's brains actually damages their brains," he said. "The injured brain isn't healed because there's less crime."

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