CAMDEN, N.J. — Camden Mayor Dana Redd said Thursday that she’ll rehire 50 of the police officers and 15 firefighters laid off earlier this year amid a budget crisis in the city, which has seen a spike in crime.
She said the state government is providing $2.5 million to bring back the public safety officers through June 30. She said she expects to adopt a city budget effective July 1 that will make the rehires permanent.
She said the long-term solution, though, might come as part of a consolidated regional police force. Gov. Chris Christie and state Sen. President Stephen Sweeney are scheduled to meet with Camden County officials next week to discuss that idea.
“It’s time for all of us to assert leadership and work together on a new approach to combine and maximize public safety resources, eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies, and provide a long-term solution to create a new and strong public safety network,” Christie said in a statement.
In addition to the hires announced Thursday, previously announced federal grants worth a total of about $9 million could soon be used to rehire about 15 more firefighters and additional police officers.
In total, the rehires won’t come close to replacing all those laid off in January, when 167 of the city’s police officers and 68 of its firefighters were told their jobs were being cut. That represented nearly half the police force and one-third of the fire department.
“To the criminals, who may have thought it was open season in the city of Camden, don’t be mistaken. We’re out there, we’re on the ground and we’re coming for you,” Redd said in a news conference at the city’s police headquarters.
The city has hardly any commercial tax base. Most major enterprises there, like the port, a Rutgers University campus and a minor-league ballpark, make payments in lieu of taxes less than a full tax bill would be.
On top of that, tax revenue has been down in the sluggish economy — and the state has cut aid to the city.
In addition to the public safety officers, about 100 civilian city employees were also laid off in January.
Even with a fully staffed police force, the city regularly ranked as among the most dangerous places in the country, according to CQ Press’s annual analysis of FBI crime data.
When layoffs came, Police Chief Scott Thomson shifted detectives and supervisors to patrols hoping to have just as many officers on the street.
The changes meant that more investigations would be handed off to the county prosecutor’s office, which is also bracing for deep layoffs, and that the department would not send officers to minor car accidents or lesser crimes, like some thefts.
But it appears the changed tactics haven’t done much to control crime. The county prosecutor’s office says that in the first two months of the year, homicides were down. But there were nearly twice as many shootings and nearly four times as many aggravated assaults with a firearm.
Redd said the idea of bring back more officers was in the works before crime spiked, and that the additional crime was not a factor in bringing officers back.
Thomson said the rehired police will be on force around April 1 and will be put on patrols of hotspots, residential areas and business districts.
U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews, a Democrat who represents Camden and its suburbs, said following rehires, there will be 20 percent more officers on the street than there were before the layoffs.
But the laid off public safety workers weren’t exactly rejoicing about Thursday’s announcement.
Robert Scott, a firefighter for five years before he was laid off, called it “a crock of crap.” He pointed to a half-dozen murders and about as many homes leveled by fires since January.
“How many more lives will it take to bring everybody back?” he asked.