Homicides Move Across the River From Camden to Philadelphia

Camden, New Jersey has been designated a success story in recent years for transforming its police department and driving down crime. In 2012, the southern New Jersey city across the river from Philadelphia dissolved the local city police department in favor of oversight by the county police department with a newfound focus on community policing.

While relatively small, Camden had the highest murder rate on a per capita basis in the country at the time, and it spent 75 percent of its budget on the police and fire department.

A significant drop in homicides followed the police department overhaul, which had been at a relative peak in 2013 at 57. That number dropped by half in a handful of years.

But as Camden has been recognized for that improvement, its sister city across the Delaware River, Philadelphia, has seen a surge in homicides. In 2018, the city had the most homicides in at least a decade.

In total, between the two cities the total number of homicides hasn’t really changed in the last ten years. The total number of homicides for the greater Philadelphia area is about what it was seven years ago before the Camden police force was reinvented.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) numbers for Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties, which contains the city of Camden, list the same number of murders in 2017 as in 2010 (52). And despite all the general praise given to the revamped Camden police force, homicides appear to trending upward in the last year.

In 2013, near Camden’s peak in the homicide rate, F.B.I. numbers for Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties list 86 murders. The Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington area registered 426 for the same year. In total, 510.

For 2017, the two areas, which may overlap in reporting, recorded 52 and 496 homicides respectively, or 548 in total: a 7.4 percent increase since the Camden police department reform and the decline in the homicides for the city of Camden.

Other categories of crime—assault, robbery, property crime—are trending downward for Camden-area counties, but that’s also the case for Philadelphia and other major cities over the last few decades.

Recent data doesn’t provide a breakdown of crime for the city of Camden as it’s now reported at the county level ever since the department was reorganized.

Data from the F.B.I.’s Crime Data Explorer show a similar trend for the combined Philadelphia-Camden area. While homicides for Camden proper have declined, Philadelphia-area homicides are at a relative peak

Population Change or Redistribution

Camden may have also seen a large population exodus at the same time or a change in how its numbers were reported, or potentially both.

F.B.I. data list the Camden County population going from 1,268,710 in 2010 to 1,256,928 in 2017, a decline of almost 12,000 people in less than a decade.

In comparison, Philadelphia lists a population increase for the same time period, going from 6,027,122 in 2010 to 6,095,755, an increase of almost 69,000 people.

Separately, numbers from the U.S. Census show a sudden drop in the population of the city of Camden beginning in 2014, by over 4 percent (3,267), between 2012 to 2018.

The Popularity of Community Policing

Camden isn’t alone in its push for community policing. Other cities and politicians have pushed for the idea to alleviate social issues and stem animosity with the police.

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, Minneapolis recently voted to dismantle its police department in favor of a community policing model and presidential candidate Joe Biden supported community policing as part of his platform.