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Camden Mayor’s Decision To Dismantle City’s Police Force Stirs Up Controversy

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By Jenn Bernstein, David Madden

CAMDEN, Nj. (CBS) — A bullet hole remains in the window of the community Baptist church on Ephraim Avenue in Camden.

Pastor David King is no stranger to crime in the area. On Friday, he conducted the funeral for a 17-year-old who was shot to death.

“Last year we had a murder on this corner,” said King. “Everywhere where you can point, we’ve had murders.”

Camden is known as one of the most dangerous cities in America. This year is on track to be one of the worst with the city recording 39 homicides so far, which surpasses the statistic from this time last year.

“The cities experiencing a high homicide rate, and it’s not acceptable,” said Camden Mayor Dana Redd. “We want to make sure our citizens are safe.”

For two years, the city’s worked on plans to shake up the police force and create the Camden Metro Police Division, which would be run by the county. Wednesday night at a City Council meeting, the Mayor said a police layoff plan will be filed by the end of the month to fastrack the process. That would mean all 270 current officers could lose their jobs by the end of 2012, although the mayor says all will be eligible for almost 400 estimated new positions.

“We’re having a problem internally with the existing force,” said Redd. “We rehired everyone, all the 168 officers that were laid off. We’re having a high absentee rate so we cannot continue with this trend and expect to keep our city safe.”

But the president of the police union, John williamson, says the city intensified the crime problem when it laid off police officers last year. He believes this plan is only going to make it worse.

“Not only are you playing with people’s futures, you’re playing with the public’s lives,” said Williamson. He doesn’t believe all officers will be rehired, and calls the Metro Police plan untested and risky. “I say that bringing 300 new people who don’t know the city, don’t know the people, is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Williamson also insists Redd’s contention of high absenteeism within departmental ranks is wrong. He says some members are simply declining to work overtime and being marked as sick.

The mayor says the county is expected to announce the hiring process within this week. The police union is considering legal action.

“There are several legal actions going on against the city,” Williamson said. “One involving fighting this county metro plan, another that is dealing with the petition initiative that is filed in the appeal court.”

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