- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2011

CAMDEN, N.J. | Two months after layoffs decimated the ranks of Camden’s police and fire departments in a city that ranks as one of the nation’s poorest and most crime-ridden, the departments are getting a boost amid worsening crime.

Camden Mayor Dana Redd announced Thursday that she has struck a deal with Gov. Chris Christie that will provide $2.5 million in state funding to rehire 50 police officers and 15 firefighters on April 1.

The size of both public safety departments will still be way down compared to before the January layoffs when 167 police officers and 68 firefighters were told their jobs were being cut. That represented nearly half the police force and about one-third of the fire department.

The $2.5 million to rehire officers is coming in the form of a rent payment from the South Jersey Port Corp., a quasi-state agency that runs two terminals in the city. Miss Redd said it’s enough to keep the rehired workers on force through June 30.

She said she expects to have a city budget that takes effect July 1 that will keep them around.

The mayor said the long-term solution, though, might come as part of a consolidated regional police force. Mr. Christie and Stephen Sweeney, president of the state Senate, are scheduled to meet with Camden County officials next week to discuss that idea.

“It’s time for all of us to assert leadership and work together on a new approach to combine and maximize public safety resources, eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies, and provide a long-term solution to create a new and strong public safety network,” Mr. Christie said.

In addition to the hires announced Thursday, previously announced federal grants worth a total of about $9 million could soon be used to rehire about 15 more firefighters and additional police officers.

Even with a fully staffed police force, the city regularly ranked as among the most dangerous places in the country, according to CQ Press’s annual analysis of FBI crime data.

When layoffs came, Police Chief Scott Thomson shifted detectives and supervisors to patrols hoping to have just as many officers on the street.

The changes meant that more investigations would be handed off to the county prosecutor’s office, which also is bracing for deep layoffs that could take effect April 1, and that the department would not send officers to minor car accidents or lesser crimes, including some thefts.

But it appears the changed tactics haven’t done much to control crime. The county prosecutor’s office says that in the first two months of the year, homicides were down. But there were nearly twice as many shootings and nearly four times as many aggravated assaults with a firearm.

Miss Redd said the idea of bring back more officers was in the works before crime spiked, and that the additional crime was not a factor in bringing officers back.

Chief Thomson said the rehired police will be put on patrols of hotspots, residential areas and business districts.

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