By Cleve Bryan
CAMDEN, NJ (CBS) -- The first phase of an initiative to demolish almost 600 abandoned homes in Camden kick started Tuesday with the announcement of an advertised bid to contract the work.
Phase I includes knocking down three houses in the Cramer Hill section of the city and 61 in Whitman Park.
"It's fine if they knock these houses down, but my main concern is once you knock these houses down, what are you going to put up in these empty lots?" asksWhitman Park resident Denise Clark.
Abandoned homes present several threats to safety.
Two years ago a fire in an abandoned home on Camden County Freeholder Scot McCray's block destroyed his home on Chambers Street.
"The abandoned property here was actually illegally entered by a squatter. She got in, lit up some candles, doing whatever she was doing. I think it ended up being a three or four alarm fire" says McCray.
Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson says his department has seen a shift from crime happening on the streets to inside homes.
He says more than half the city's homicides this past year happened indoors where gangs often bring their victims into abandoned houses to commit their most heinous acts of violence.
"It's a win for us to be able to suppress the flagrant violent criminal activity and push it off the streets but now that it's been confined to abandoned buildings and the like, we need to take the next step and remove those opportunities," says Thomson.
Phase two of the demolition initiative is to tear down an additional 534 abandoned properties throughout the city bringing the total to almost 600 homes.
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