Crime can't stop North Camden's little leaguers

It's a day of celebration in a city that rarely has a reason to revel -- opening day for the little league in North Camden, New Jersey. It's nothing short of a major league triumph.

A field now filled with aspiring ball players and their cheering families was once a crime-filled park rarely visited by police, let alone children, reports CBS News' Jim Axelrod.

"The parks had become a spot for recreational drug use, you know, more so than anything else," explained Bryan Morton, founder of North Camden Little League. "We had to change the culture."

Morton began the North Camden Little League in 2011, the same year the police force in the city was cut in half. Soon after, the city dubbed America's "most dangerous" had its highest murder rate ever.

"In 2011 there was a lot of talk about the crisis that was happening in this city," remembered Morton. He said that among "every responsible adult, the conversation was how crazy was it about to become?"

As a parent, Morton said the only options were to move away or do something. He chose the latter.

"People like Brian are the X-factor in whether this city will be successful or not," Camden County Police Commissioner Scott Thomson said. He's a college friend of Morton's.

"We have to be investing in what the future is," Thomson said, "and people like Brian who have taken the time to ensure that the youth can have the extracurricular activities and have the opportunity and the exposure that most other children in this country have."

Ensuring the safety of the children playing here, and the rest of the city, required Thomson to make drastic changes.

"When we brought in what we believed were the absolute best officers, we didn't put them in squad cars. We didn't have them driving around the neighborhoods," Thomson said. "We put them on foot. We had them walking through neighborhoods, and they were capturing the hearts and minds of the good people and changing the mental calculus of the bad people."

Before Thomson took over, 100 of Camden's police officers had desk jobs. Now, any cop not working a beat can be found monitoring crime in real-time from a state-of-the-art command center that relies on a network of surveillance cameras.

The technology used in the command center is a "force multiplier," Thomson said.

"Technology is never going to replace a boot on the ground, but the technology gives us the ability to be smarter, to be faster, and to broaden our scope of coverage," he said.

There are measurable ways to say Camden is a safer city.

"Where we stand from this point last year, we've reduced gun violence in our city 30 percent. We've reduced robberies 20 percent in our city. We reduced overall crime 29 percent in our city," said Thomson.

It's a city that has been one of the most crime-ridden in America.

"It's an extremely challenged environment in which we operate, but what we have found is if we can get more good people on our streets and less bad people on our streets, then we can change the dynamic of neighborhoods," Thomson said.

For Morton, Camden's success fighting crime is plain to see on this ball field. Just three years ago, 100 kids were signed up for the little league. This year, it's 400.

"For me, every kid is a success story... it's a victory," said Morton.

As encouraging as the story of North Camden's little league is, baseball won't save the city. But Camden remains among the nation's most dangerous places to live, and every victory, no matter how small, is a big deal.

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