CAMDEN, NJ – Days after the state Civil Service Commission’s approval of the city’s plan to lay off its entire police force, Camden City Council Friday morning voted to put that plan into action, moving another step closer toward a new countywide police department.
While the vote was unanimous, Councilman Brian Coleman has suggested he may change his vote to “no,” according to the city clerk’s office Friday afternoon. Coleman has previously spoken out against the layoffs, as well as the plan to replace the 265-officer police department with county department with a metro division, calling it “union busting.”
Members of the Camden Fraternal Order of Police attended the meeting, but made no verbal protests before or after the vote. Camden FOP President John Williamson released a statement prior to the 10 a.m. council meeting reaffirming the union’s opposition to the plan.
“The process to replace the Camden city police force has been an ongoing battle for two years, and it has lacked transparency and was conceived to achieve a political solution,” read the statement. “The mere fact Mayor [Dana] Redd, Police Chief [Scott] Thomson and Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli continue to defy Camden City Council member Brian Coleman’s formal request to obtain important financial documents, in itself, is reason enough to halt this process.
“It is shameful the process to dismantle a police force with more than 141 years of history was done through a political and bureaucrat process instead of a truthful public discussion and public vote. The public deserves to have their questions answered, and deserves to make the final decision.”
Speaking after the meeting, Williamson stated the FOP intends to file litigation in the coming days in a last-chance effort to stop the layoffs, set to begin April 30. The FOP had previously tried to but the plan on a voting ballot, but that effort was blocked in court.
“Coming off a record homicide year, the best way in my view is to maintain what we have, and build off of that,” he said.
However, county and city officials have stated it’s the lack of funding needed in order to maintain the current police department — let alone expand it — that led them to pursue the countywide solution.
Officials plan to establish a 400-officer metro division to patrol the city, using roughly the same police budget — approximately $65 million in salary and operations costs — by axing fringe benefits within the current union contract.
The 400 metro division officers would be supported by an estimated 100 civilian personnel, according to proponents of the plan.