Community leaders and local residents marched through downtown Camden on Tuesday in a rally against what they called a “dangerous initiative.”
They marched from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge to city hall in protest of a plan to eliminate the Camden City Police force and use a regional county force instead. They also attended a meeting at city hall after the rally.
Camden Mayor Dana Redd says the merger is a cost-cutting move for her 2013 budget. To do it however, the city would have to eliminate over 280 jobs in the Camden City Police Department. The Mayor's Office told NBC10 she is currently out of town.
“We’re going to make a statement to you mayor and to the ones who dictate to you that you’re not going to get rid of our police department,” said rally organizer and community activist Ali Sloan El. “The mayor can’t do that! Who does she think she is?”
“Regional? They have to get around here,” said Camden resident Rita Perez. “The fact is if you have something that’s occurring immediately or is urgent, where’s your protection?”
The Mayor also says members of the Camden Police Department will be eligible to apply for the county wide force which will start off with around 400 officers. Gary Frazier, another rally organizer, tells NBC10 bringing in an outside police force could bring unintended consequences.
“All it takes is one small move,” said Frazier. “If somebody gets hurt or shot then our city will be in an uproar. These are problems we do not need at this time.”
A standing room only council meeting on the merger took place Tuesday night. NBC10 spoke with Camden Police Union President John Williamson, who attended the meeting.
"We're concerned, we're definitely concerned," said Williamson. "You're going to create a police department and staff it with people who are unfamiliar with the city and say, 'go ahead and fight crime.' That is a recipe for disaster."
"I'm very worried for one thing," said Betty Battle-Davis. "The ones that they hire do not know Camden."
Camden City Council President Frank Moran told NBC10 the decision is not a done deal and still requires a vote. Moran is in favor of the decision however.
"At one time or another officers were rookies and they were new at every town they worked," said Moran. "We cannot tolerate one more murder. We cannot tolerate an innocent child being shot. We cannot tolerate the enormous amount of break-ins and assaults that go unheard of."
City Council tells NBC10 they don't expect a vote on the official proposal until the end of the year.