By Kimberly Davis

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — The City of Camden has emerged as a national case study on police reform. But frustrated residents say they are not being included in discussions on how to improve community policing.

Those who came out to Thursday night’s town hall event say they’re tired of the way the Camden County Police Department is being portrayed and it’s time to change the narrative.

Frustrated and feeling silenced — that’s why organizers of a Camden community town hall say they wanted to have an open dialogue about community policing.

“It took Camden residents to see so many different events that have happened in their city to know that community policing does not exist and it’s not doing well in the City of Camden,” organizers Ronsha Dickerson said.

The town hall focused on community policing had no members of the police department present.

The department shared a statement, reading in part:  “The chief and command staff notified the organizers well in advance, days ago, in fact, the agency would not be participating in the event based on the public health crisis. Any advertising of our participation in press documents were untrue and false.”

“We need police officers who know that community, that know that a brother is in front of his own house and not every Black man in his car is trying to distribute dangerous controlled substances,” one man said.

Residents say they will continue to speak out against injustices within the department, even if police aren’t present for that conversation.

“For those who have been freedom fighters for many things they believe in, it was never done by the person who we’re attacking. It was done by the people moving,” Dickerson said.

A spokesperson with the Camden County Police Department says no one was available to attend the community policing meeting because of concerns surrounding COVID-19.

He went on to say a Zoom option was offered by the department, but organizers declined that offer. Organizers say they declined because the event had been pushed back twice due to a lack of police availability.

Kimberly Davis