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Justice

What Happened to Crime in Camden?

Often ranked as one of the deadliest cities in America, Camden, New Jersey, ended 2017 with its lowest homicide rate since the 1980s.
Camden police respond to a fatal shooting in 2008. 10 years later, the police force is transformed and murders like these are in decline.
Camden police respond to a fatal shooting in 2008. 10 years later, the police force is transformed and murders like these are in decline.Ted Aurig/AP

When Camden, New Jersey’s Chief of Police J. Scott Thomson joined the Camden police force as an officer 25 years ago, there were 175 open-air drug markets lining just nine square miles of streets. The murder rates in this city of 75,000 just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia regularly climbed to more than six times the national average. “Criminals operated with impunity,” Thomson said.

After a particularly deadly year in 1995, Camden’s Cathedral of Immaculate Conception began illuminating one candle for each homicide victim. In 2012, the year ended with 67 candles—a rate of about 87 murders per 100,000 residents, which ranked Camden fifth nationwide.