By Alexandria Hoff

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — The story of Camden, New Jersey is in the spotlight as debate rages over whether to defund police departments in response to the killing of George Floyd. CBS3’s Alexandria Hoff talked to residents about their city’s turnaround and if it can work elsewhere.

From Gayle King on CBS This Morning to our sister station in Minneapolis, Camden is now on the tip of the nation’s tongue. The city is being used as a positive example of peaceful protests and police reform.

“President [Barack] Obama singled your department out for the way that you handled protestors,” King said to Camden County Police Chief Joseph Wysocki during a panel on law enforcement.

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In 2012, Camden’s police department was dissolved and rebuilt as a county force. It was a money-saving measure that boasted a new focus on community policing.

In a place consistently regarded as one of the nation’s most violent cities, crime fell.

“You have to continually be doing community policing. You have to do community outreach and you have to listen,” Wysocki said.

“This was full of trash and debris and now it lights up with our solar lights,” longtime resident Pino Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez heads the Camden Block Supporter Initiative.

“I looked at everything that was done in the past and I found a way to engage these residents and make them feel like they are a part of something good as well,” he said.

For about 15 years, the beautification effort has urged community members to participate in the work to keep their blocks clean and safe.

“The police department is a great thing. We had a bad situation before,” Rodriguez said.

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Rodriguez appreciates the revised policing but adds true rebuilding can’t rely on one department alone.

“This lot right here used to be maintained by drug dealers,” he said.

Community members themselves have stepped up to the plate and Rodriguez has seen that happen one flower pot at a time.

When asked about the praise Camden received for their peaceful protests and lack of looting, Rodriguez said the riots of 1969 and 1971 were too painful for the community to want to relive.

Alexandria Hoff