Camden, New Jersey has been a hell-hole for as long as I can remember. Indeed, I remember reading a Wall Street Journal story in the late 1980s about "America's Forgotten Cities" which included both Camden and Newark in New Jersey (along with East St. Louis, Illinois if memory serves). The most stunning bit about the story was how there were so few landowners of record left that Camden had the highest property taxes in the Garden State. Which of course sped up the process by which owners abandoned properties.
Like a lot of U.S. cities, the population of Camden peaked in 1950 and is now a bit more than half that high point at 77,000. South Jersey old-timers would tell you about how they used to go there for the shopping back during World War II and into some part of the 1950s before the place flatlined even as RCA and Campbell's Soup stuck around for decades more. The contractor I worked for in Philadelphia in the late 1980s told me he had to stop doing jobs in Camden because too much stuff got ripped off all the time. Headlines like this 2000 classic—"In Camden, another mayor is indicted on corruption charges"—are SNAFU for Camden.
Via Omar Wasow's great Twitter feed comes this New York Times profile of a city so dysfunctional it sounds like Franz Kafka on steroids. City leaders now are disbanding the unionized police force so they can hire more and cheaper cops. The goal is to can the remaining 273 union cops so they can hire 400 cops to patrol a city that is both the nation's poorest and one of the most broke ("Camden's budget was $167 million last year, and of that, the budget for the police was $55 million. Yet the city collected only $21 million in property taxes.").
Just how sweet are the existing police contracts?
Officers earn an additional 4 percent for working a day shift, and an additional 10 percent for the shift starting at 9:30 p.m. They earn an additional 11 percent for working on a special tactical force or an anticrime patrol.
Salaries range from about $47,000 to $81,000 now, not including the shift differentials or additional longevity payments of 3 percent to 11 percent for any officer who has worked five years or more. Officials say they anticipate salaries for the new force will range from $47,000 to $87,000.
In 2009, as the economy was putting a freeze on municipal budgets even in well-off communities, the police here secured a pay increase of 3.75 percent.
And liberal sick time and family-leave policies have created an unusually high absentee rate: every day, nearly 30 percent of the force does not show up. (A typical rate elsewhere is in the single digits.)
Camden is completely run by Democrats, so there is no b.s. about how this sort of draconian action is some sort of partisan posturing. It's simply the result of brutal fiscal reality that will be coming soon to about 90 percent of American cities.
For more on that, check out this Reason TV vid on Stockton, California, the biggest city to go broke so far: