Debate heats up over Camden Police merger

CAMDEN, N.J. - August 12, 2011

One side says it will lead to chaos on the streets. The others believe Camden will become a safer place.

Big cities in England have seen massive urban riots over the last week. Some officials are wondering if that could happen in Camden, N.J.

That's what the president of Camden's embattled police union is saying could occur if county officials are allowed to carry out their plan to merge the city police force into a county regional force, with only one half of Camden's current cops being retained.

It is the latest salvo in the debate over consolidation aimed at saving money.

Camden's cops say the city is under attack by the county freeholders.

"The city of Camden is under attack again. Not just by the usual criminals, but by the Freehold Director, Louis Cappelli ," said John Williamson.

The FOP leader says Camden suffers from the same poverty, crime and social unrest powder keg that exploded into riots in London and Birmingham, England. He says tampering with Camden's already undermanned police force only invites trouble.

"The government officials and citizens of London now realize the importance and value of police readiness," Williamson said.

Louis Cappelli, the leader of the County Freeholders, condemned the FOP leader's rhetoric.

The comments are unconscionable," said Cappelli. "There is no room in this debate for talk of riots in Camden city. That is unconscionable and irresponsible for any FOP member to be talking about riots at this time."

Cappelli says his plan would end up doubling the number of cops on the street in Camden, and all of Camden's current cops will be eligible for the new county force.

The political rhetoric surrounding the police issue is bound to heat up. The stakes are high with lots of jobs and power on the line.

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