Violent crime has generally been trending downward nationally for the last few years, according to some of the latest crime statistics. Law enforcement officers, the courts, trial attorneys, neighborhoods, residents, and others have all played a role in driving down the rates of violent crimes, despite many of the headlines that continue to highlight much of the violence that occurs in specific cities.
While cities like Chicago, Detroit and New York continue to dominate headlines with their crime rates, there are cities in other parts of the country where crime has fallen in dramatic ways. There are small steps in progress in some places, while others have dramatic improvements in crime rates.
Granted, crime rates are based on crime reports, and there may be some violent crimes that may have been pleaded down to lesser charges which usually skew the actual numbers. But in general, the trend has been positive – even with an increased number of known gun owners.
One of the success stories in the making comes from New Jersey, where the city of Camden for years has been considered one of the most violent cities in America – listing among the top-five in violent crime rates for much of the last 20 years.
How things have changed, especially recently. There were 67 murders in Camden in 2012, and just five years later, 2017 finished with just 22 murders – the rate dropped by two-thirds, to an official rate of 26 per 100, 000 residents. This is the lowest murder rate in Camden in 30 years.
The secret? As Chief J. Scott Thomson said, “We wanted our officers to be identified more with the Peace Corps than with Special Forces.” In other words – the department was repurposed into what is called “community policing.” This means a way of patrolling in which the police build advocate relationships with neighborhoods and residents that would help head off violent crimes before they start.
Turning police officers into community friends and advocates, rather than adversaries, creates a level of trust and safety that can transform the culture of a community, reducing the need for trial attorneys and prosecutors. Not only are these officers advocating with the community while on duty, but many of them are serving off-hours as mentors with various youth and young adults in the community.
Community policing has been an effective method in many cities to cultivate better, more collaborative relationships between residents, neighborhoods and law-enforcement officers to improve crime, protect public safety and raise the quality of life across the entire city and not just in select neighborhoods.