TRENTON – Attorney General Anne Milgram announced today the launch of a major new anti-crime initiative in Camden city that will more than triple the number of police officers on the streets. At the same time, Milgram announced the appointment of a new Camden police director and chief of police to lead implementation of the plan, known as the Camden Community Safety Initiative.
Louis Vega, former Assistant Chief of the Miami police department and a veteran of more than 40 years in law enforcement, will serve as Camden’s new police director. John Scott Thomson, a veteran of 14 years with the Camden police force who most recently served as deputy chief, has been appointed the new chief of police.
“The level of violence in Camden city remains unacceptably high,” said Attorney General Milgram, noting there have been 34 homicides and 100 non-fatal shootings in Camden this year, many of them drug or gang related. “For law enforcement, doing more of the same is no longer an alternative, nor is incremental change. The situation demands immediate and dramatic action, and that is what we are taking here today. The citizens of Camden deserve no less.”
According to Milgram, the main thrust of the new Community Safety Initiative is to improve the quality of life for Camden residents by reducing violence, street crime, gang activity and open air drug dealing. This will be accomplished, she explained, by increasing the number of Camden police officers and detectives performing enforcement and field investigation duties. Key to the approach will be redeployment of police personnel from specialized units and non-essential, administrative duties to street-level duties.
One of the many benefits of such a plan, Milgram noted, is the flexibility to focus police resources on multiple violent crime “hot spots” while not diluting the strength of neighborhood patrols.
“The people of Camden want their police officers on the streets protecting them, not sitting behind a desk. This plan is founded on that very fundamental notion,” said Milgram.
The Community Safety Initiative was developed principally through the collaborative efforts of the Camden Police Department and Jose Cordero, New Jersey’s first statewide Director of Gangs, Guns and Violent Crime. Director Cordero oversaw a similar initiative in his previous role as Police Director in East Orange.
Highlights of the Camden police redeployment strategy include:
- Reassignment of Camden police officers from specialized units such as traffic, tactical force and supplemental patrol to the Community Safety Initiative, along with officers who had been serving in non-essential, administrative and support positions.
- A requirement that non-critical administrative and support staff not reassigned under the new plan still perform street enforcement duties twice per week.
- The combining of all homicide, anti-crime, shooting response team and narcotics investigators into one unit known as the Violent Crime Task Force. The unit will maintain its investigative capacity, but will now feature an array of other investigative assets that enable it to address conditions that often lead to gun violence and homicides.
- Decentralization of the Detective Bureau to allow investigators currently assigned to such specialized sections as domestic violence, arson, auto theft, juvenile, etc., to work outside of their “specialties” and investigate all crimes.
While Attorney General Milgram described putting more police on the street as the bedrock of the new anti-crime plan, she said a new Violent Crime Control Command and Coordination Center established at Camden police headquarters will play a vital role as well.
The Command and Coordination Center will be responsible on a round-the-clock basis for coordinating the police department’s anti-crime-and-violence efforts through deployment of personnel and equipment to hot spots, among other strategies. The command center was activated for the first time on Wednesday.
Milgram said that, while significant change within the Camden police department is most crucial to making the city safer, it remains vital for law enforcement at every level to work cooperatively with Camden on prevention and enforcement efforts. She said her office, the New Jersey State Police and the Camden County Prosecutors Office will continue to play important roles in violence and crime prevention efforts in Camden.
Milgram was joined at Wednesday’s press conference by Director Cordero, as well as new Police Chief Thomson and new Police Director Vega.
“I am proud today to assume the role of police chief,” said Thomson. “I look forward to working with Director Vega, the police department, city officials and members of the Camden community to reduce crime and violence on our streets. I know from experience that the Camden Police Department has the people, and the dedication to its mission, to make this new initiative work.”
Police Director Vega said, “I am glad to be here in Camden, and to lead the team that is going to make this city safer. I fully support the new community safety initiative, and am committed to making the changes that must be made in order to reduce crime and violence, and improve the quality of life for all Camden residents."
John Timoney, former Philadelphia Police Commissioner and current Miami Chief of Police, described Vega as ”a man of honor, integrity and intelligence” who is also an excellent leader.
Timoney said he has known Vega since the 1970s, when they worked narcotics
assignments together as New York City police detectives. Vega later served as Timoney's confidential assistant when Timony served in the four-star position of Chief of Department in New York City. After Timoney became police chief in Miami in 2003, he hired Vega to serve as Assistant Chief and Director of Internal Affairs.
“I have worked closely with Louis for many years, and he is the perfect man for the police director's job,” said Timoney. "He's a great leader. He knows the streets. He knows all aspects of the policing mission from patrol to detectives to special investigations and narcotics. He's a very well-rounded individual, and I'm confident he will do an excellent job in Camden.”
Attorney General Milgram said she believes both Vega and Thompson have the experience, the skills and the sense of mission required to successfully implement the new crime-prevention plan in Camden.
“Having an excellent anti-crime strategy is critical, but it is only half the equation. The other half is solid and committed leadership. I have confidence in the ability of these two leaders to implement the new strategy and make it work,” said Milgram.
“Camden is a place where many law-abiding people are working hard to raise families, improve neighborhoods, launch successful businesses and have an excellent quality of life,” Milgram added. “In order to do so, they need to feel safer. Through this new initiative, we intend to make certain they are safer.”
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