Problems abound with online map of Camden's woes

January 4, 2009 6:58:49 PM PST
A year ago, a Web site went up with a simple goal: Give citizens of this struggling city a new way to report problems like abandoned homes and overgrown lots - and give the city a way to update progress in addressing them. But after a year, it looks like not much is getting done.

The Camden District Council Collaborative Board's map is filled with red dots that show unresolved complaints - a blown street light on Erie Street reported in February, a car abandoned in Ablett Village since at least September - but only a handful of green dots to show resolved problems.

City officials are trying to figure out whether the problem is cumbersome software, overwhelmed city agencies or something else.

"It's making people feel despondent," Angel Osorio, a community justice coordinator with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, told the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill for Sunday's newspapers. "They see a map filled with red. It's not fair on anyone's part."

Osorio said the map could be wiped clean by the end of the month if the problems aren't fixed.

City officials say they're looking for a way to integrate the Web site's software with the city's internal complaint software. When that happens, they say, city agencies can get word of problems faster.

Camden, a city of fewer than 80,000, has been troubled for decades. It ranks consistently as one of the nation's poorest cities and one of the most crime-ridden. It's the subject of a sweeping and unprecedented state revitalization effort and a laboratory for major foundations.

Officials see overgrown lots and abandoned homes - the kinds of things suburbanites wouldn't put up with - as a symptoms of deeper problems like high unemployment rampant drug-dealing.

The Web site was designed to show progress on at least the smaller issues. The plan was that citizens would file anonymous complaints online and those would be given to the appropriate government agencies.

By Friday, 1,092 complaints had been filed. More than one-third of them had not been acknowledged, according to the map.

And it took months to resolve those that were. The average response time for a complaint about an abandoned home was nearly seven months; the response time for graffiti was six months.

The response time was much quicker for suspicious activity and abandoned vehicles - issues handled by law enforcement. In those cases, the response times average about six days.


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