The city that actually abolished the police

A state statute was already on the books allowing counties to create police departments that towns then have the choice to opt into. But the plan would also involve busting a union: The city force had already been unionized, but the new county one would not be unionized, at least at first. The plan, as a result, was met with opposition from the police union. But the state of crime in Camden, coupled with the complete lack of money, dulled Democratic resistance to the proposal overall. “There’s no alternative, there’s no Plan B,” the Democratic City Council president, Frank Moran, told the New York Times in 2012. “It’s the only option we have.”

Without the restrictions of the union, proponents argued, more cops could be put on the streets of Camden, and hopefully, the city’s deadly spiral could finally be stopped…

The most obvious change was that the Camden police was now bigger: By cutting salaries, the county was able to hire more officers, increasing the size of the department from 250 to 400 and putting the number of Camden police officers close to what it was before the 2010 budget cuts.

But the more important changes went beyond the size of the roster. Thomson, who had been appointed chief in 2008 and oversaw the department through the transition, also used the changes as a way to implement a number of progressive policies. The challenge, he said, was reframing how officers viewed their roles. No longer would officers be the “arbitrary decider of what’s right and wrong,” he said, but rather consider themselves as “a facilitator and a convener.”