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New Jersey congressman who helped revamp Camden police on what it takes to reform: "It's about reinvesting"

How Camden, N.J. rebuilt its police force
N.J. congressman on police reform and how Camden reinvented its police force 10:39

As calls grow nationwide to defund the police, there's one city that has already done so — Camden, New Jersey. In 2013, the Camden Police Department was disbanded and rebuilt into a county system. Current Congressman and then-State Senator Donald Norcross joined CBSN to explain how it worked and why Camden's example about reinvesting can be used for other cities.

The disbanding of Camden's police department came about in 2013 as a byproduct of budget issues. The then-Governor, Mayor and state Senator Norcross worked with the community and the police chief to create a new police department run by the county of Camden. Its focus was on "how can we create a system, a police department that is of the city," Norcross said. "It's not 'us versus them,' 'community versus police,' but one that reflects what the city needs."

When the police department was restarted in Camden, all the officers had to reapply for their jobs, which meant the new department was a mix of personnel. "That is important because as the new police recruits came in, they were both veterans and new, mixed together," Norcross said. "They knocked on everybody's door and introduced themselves. And say, hi, I'm the police officer and how can we help you. Those are the seeds that were planted years ago that have created a new culture, a new community policing that has come together. And that is why you saw on TV, the chief joined Black Lives Matter along with myself and the mayor in the community in protest of that horrible killing of George Floyd."

As a byproduct of creating an entirely new police department, some major changes were made to how policing was done including a ban on chokeholds, focusing on de-escalation and mandating body cameras. The bodycams, in particular, are something that Norcross said are now seen as "truth-tellers." "The culture for police back then, they did not want to wear bodycams," he said. "That is what we see today is, for years, we have heard stories of horrible accidents, horrible incidents between police and minority black and brown community. But it was word against word and now they wear bodycams. It is truth telling, this is what we are seeing. So now I talk to the police and they don't want to be without them because it is about the truth."

To this day, Norcross said the Camden community-focused approach is one that's still working.

"The numbers of stakeholders coming together, the chief, on a weekly basis, now holds calls with the religious community of Camden city. Spending an hour to three hours each week with them, answering their questions. Especially in this time of unrest. It is really important that we, together can make this a better place," he said.

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