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'Guardians Not Warriors': How Crime Fell When New Jersey City Dismantled Police Dept.

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender says she wants to replace the current department with a transformative new model of public safety.

Actually, it has happened in the United States before, most recently in Camden, New Jersey.

Just south of Philadelphia, Camden, New Jersey is a town of 77,000 people -- a fifth of the size of Minneapolis. In the year 2013, it had one of the highest murder rates in the country.

Seven years ago, the town dismantled the entire police department, starting a community policing approach. The town and the tone has changed. Retired Chief Scott Thompson helped start the new program.

"The organization from which we created was one in which a cultures from day one was that our officers would be guardians and not warriors," Thompson said.

The department un-hired, then hired back most veteran officers and then 150 new officers -- 50% of officers are now minorities.

Officer Virginia Matias is one of the officers hired.

"When I was growing up I didn't have anything like that with police officers," Matias said.

The new force has more officers on the streets out of their cars, having conversations and mostly listening. They go through de-escalation training, like in situations like this, they are trained to use their words, and guns are a last resort.

"Not everybody can be de-escalated but if we can have them thinking morally, have them acting ethically that more often than not, those deadly force encounters can be avoided," Lt. Kevin Lutz said.

After the department changed their techniques, shootings and murders went down by 50% in two years. Officers remind others though that success is never easy to attain.

"You are gonna have to fight and scrap and earn the community's trust," Camden Police Sgt. Raphael Thornton said.

Dismantling the police department in Minneapolis could be difficult. The mayor said he is against it, and it could require a city-wide vote.

Right now, the city charter requires the city have a police force. Council is expected to discuss the issue on Friday.

RELATED: Minneapolis City Council Members Announce Intent To Defund, Dismantle MPD

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