Considered by many to be one of the most dangerous cities in America, the City of Camden in New Jersey made the seemingly surprising decision to disband its police force in 2012. Consequently, the County of Camden became responsible for policing the city, creating the Camden County Metropolitan Police Department (known as “The Metro”) with $10 million in state aid (see nj.com for more details). The decision came after financially crippling union contracts and rising crime rates left city officials with few options.
Following the switch to “The Metro”, Camden experienced a spike in crime as policing levels halved overnight. However, between 2011 and 2013, violent crimes had declined by 30% and non-violent crimes dropped 38%. Given the city’s grim history with crime, how did The Metro turn the trend around?
Their success can be attributed, at least in part, to the implementation of the Real Time Tactical Information Center—a data-driven surveillance system put in place city-wide. According to CIO online, the system includes cameras, ballistics microphones, and a dispatch-integrated GPS system designed to cut response times by far more than half. Images from 120 cameras scattered throughout the city are transmitted back to The Metro, giving officers a window into neighborhoods without necessitating a street presence. Data from surveillance technology is supplemented by performance management data that tracks officers’ patrol habits.
Critics say the system is “big brother-ish” and infringes on the rights of citizens, though the potential of the Real Time Tactical Information Center to fight crime is still unfolding. Despite the risk to privacy, Camden may yet be a pioneer in creating a safer, albeit somewhat futuristic, world.