Camden, N.J., Braces For Police, Firefighter Layoffs This week, the already-dangerous city will lose 45 percent of its police force due to budget cuts. The police chief says he will realign his force so the public won't notice, but still, some worry about what will happen with fewer workers fighting crimes.
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Camden, N.J., Braces For Police, Firefighter Layoffs

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Camden, N.J., Braces For Police, Firefighter Layoffs

Camden, N.J., Braces For Police, Firefighter Layoffs

Camden, N.J., Braces For Police, Firefighter Layoffs

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132929677/132992479" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Police in Camden, N.J., shown here in a downtown shopping area in November, will see their force shrink by more than 160 officers on Tuesday thanks to budget cuts. Mel Evans/AP hide caption

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Mel Evans/AP

Police in Camden, N.J., shown here in a downtown shopping area in November, will see their force shrink by more than 160 officers on Tuesday thanks to budget cuts.

Mel Evans/AP

On Tuesday, officials in Camden, N.J. -- a city that ranks high in crime and poverty -- are planning to cut almost 400 workers, nearly half of them police officers and firefighters.

With fewer city workers fighting crimes and fires, some residents worry life will be more dangerous.

Carmelo Villegas, who has owned Camden Laundromat for about 30 years, points to a boarded up house across the street -- a  drug haven, he says.

"It's like giving a license to these crooks to come in and try to take over," he says.

Villegas tells a harrowing story of being shot at by robbers about five years ago. He says with the city and state strapped for cash, the federal government should step in.

"We've been having a lot of wars here in the United States, and that's billions and billions of dollars they're spending," he says. "Why they don't spend it here in the country defending our own people here?"

Post-Layoff Police Plan

Camden Police Chief John Scott Thomson is in charge of preventing the sort of pandemonium many residents predict. Thomson says 163 officers will be laid off -- about 45 percent of the force. The remaining officers will be, as he says, "out in the field."

"When it's all said and done, the game plan that we are moving forward with, we will have 92 percent of the organization in the field," Thomson says. "Post-layoff, our street numbers will be 3.5 percent less than what they currently are today."

Thomson insists the city will not be more dangerous after the layoffs. He's committed to Camden, he says.

"I've spent the last 17 years of my life putting it on the line in this city. Many people I know and love reside in this city, work in this city," he says. "I'm married to this city."

But John Williamson, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Camden, has his doubts.

"You cannot cover the same amount of ground in the same amount of time with less. You may be able to cover the same amount of ground, but just by the sheer reduction in numbers, the time responses are definitely going to be longer. And if you've been the victim of a crime, exactly how much of a delay is OK?" Williamson says.

Camden Mayor Dana Redd says with less money from the state of New Jersey, the city faces a $26.5 million budget gap, so she had little choice but to push forward with the layoffs.

She's still hoping some jobs can be saved.

"If we receive meaningful concessions from police and fire, it certainly will lessen the number of layoffs," Redd says.