A New Jersey city often described as the most dangerous in the country will no longer have its own police force, as a crunched state budget has intensified an effort to reduce costs by busting the local police union. Camden, New Jersey ranks among the most crime-ridden cities in America — in 2008, it had the nation’s highest crime rate — and this year, it is on pace to set a national record for shootings and murders.
The city, however, will lay off its entire police force by the end of the year. Law enforcement duties will instead fall to a newly established division of the county police force. Unlike Camden’s city police, the county department is not unionized, and though roughly half of the city’s police officers will transition to the county department, they will lose their collective bargaining rights. The changes, Camden police officials say, is an attack on the police union, FoxNews.com reports:
“This is definitely a form of union-busting,” Camden Fraternal Order of Police President John Williamson told FoxNews.com. “This method is unproven and untested, to put your faith in an agency that doesn’t even [yet] exist.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) endorsed the plan to transition Camden’s police to county control and specifically mentioned contract disputes in a recent speech. “A county police force that has a reasonable contract, and that’s going to provide a huge increase in the number of police officers on the streets here in Camden, is a win for everybody,” Christie said at a recent event at Rutgers-Camden University, where he signed a reform bill for higher education. “I’m willing to put my name on the line for this concept.”
Christie has made his disdain for the state’s public unions clear since taking office. He signed anti-union legislation that made sweeping changes to pension and health benefits and temporarily limited collective bargaining rights in 2011. He has also made the outlandish claim that “unions are trying to break the middle class.” His budget cuts caused the layoff of 4,000 police officers last year, leaving cities like Camden and Newark unable to respond to vehicle accidents and small crimes. Cities across the state have either disbanded or made substantial cuts to their drug units.
Across the country, budget cuts like Christie’s have nailed local police forces, causing the layoffs of more than 56,000 cops since 2009. And in many states, like Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Ohio, and New Jersey, those budget cuts have been coupled with attacks on public sector unions, as the GOP attempts to use fiscal distress as an excuse to advance its anti-labor agenda.