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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Camden County (New Jersey) Police Department (CCPD) as a 2019 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo features Officer Lissandra Sime with 3-year-old Nyasia Lee and 2-year-old Rasheem Lee at the CCPD’s annual Masquerade with the Metro Halloween event.
In the summer of 2011, homicides were at a record-breaking high in the city of Camden, New Jersey. The Camden Police Department (CPD) did not have sufficient staffing or funding to be able to keep the city safe. Sweeping layoffs and high expenses were plaguing the CPD and causing crime to go unchecked throughout the urban area.
This led city and state officials to make a groundbreaking decision—to disband the CPD and start anew with a regionalized county force, the Camden County Police Department (CCPD). The move would free up funding from expensive contractual obligations and redirect the money into hiring a new, larger police force with more resources.
The CCPD officially opened on May 1, 2013, and, within months, reached its goal of hiring the budgeted 400 officers. With more officers patrolling the area—as well as more access to necessary resources—the CCPD was able to target violent street gangs and crime in the city with the help of federal and law enforcement partners.
Over the past six years, the department has been able to reduce violent crime and homicide rates. “Last year we were at a 40 year low in violent crime and this year, so far, we are about 2 percent underneath that,” said Lieutenant Zsakhiem James, Community Commander of the CCPD. James is a native of South Camden and has worked as a law enforcement officer in the city for 27 years.
When re-entering the community as the CCPD, the department’s main priority was not only reducing crime but also resurrecting the community’s sense of security through community policing. “We want to empower people to come back out on [their] porches, to have children ride their bikes and feel safe,” James said. “It doesn’t matter what the numbers are, but, if you don’t feel safe walking to the corner store, then we haven’t done our job.”
The CCPD’s new structure ensures that all levels of the department are involved in community engagement. “We don’t have what’s called a ‘patrol division’ anymore. We got rid of that. Now, everyone is a part of the neighborhood response team (other than the detectives),” James said. “So, [all officers are] responsible [for being] a community outreach person.” This new culture of being able to engage the community at any one time is “the key to [the department’s] success,” and “is part of what [the CCPD teaches] from day one.”
The “all hands on deck” approach helps the CCPD in achieving another goal, which is becoming an integral part of the community. Officers’ consistent presence in the neighborhood is necessary so that the community feels heard. “Our engagement with the community is to build that trust and transparency, [so] people begin to talk to us and have those conversations.”
Opening these lines of communication is a critical element to the community commander. James stresses that “conversation brings clarity, and clarity brings understanding, and understanding then brings empowerment.”
“We want to be an agency of empowerment in our community, not just an occupying force,” James noted. “It’s not a matter of imposing our will—we're finding out what the community wants and how we can be a better police department.”
The CCPD’s presence is felt through events, community meetings, partnerships, discussions with stakeholders, and by just walking the beat. Through these daily conversations with residents, the CCPD is able to build meaningful relationships with the community. The smallest details and follow-ups can help to change a neighbor’s everyday life for the better because “it builds that trust, that you hear what they are saying, and that you value what they have to say.”
The winning photo was taken at the Masquerade with the Metro, which is one of the many annual events that were started at the CCPD’s inception. The image symbolizes the progress that the department has made in creating real relationships and a safer community for those living in Camden. Lt. James notes that the department is always evolving and it hopes to continuously improve upon creating a safe space and building trust.
“By no means are we planting the flag of victory, but we're just on the right path and will continue to build this relationship with the community so that the whole community as a whole is empowered.”
Written with contributions from Lieutenant Zsakhiem James of the CCPD. Photo courtesy of the CCPD.
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