Police Abuse

WATCH President Obama Announce New Police Data Initiative

President Obama in Camden, but probably won't mention how the city broke free of their police union.


Miami PD

While the White House's move to roll back some of the transfers of military equipment from the federal government to local police agencies is getting the most coverage, news from the White House's police task force also includes a measure that doesn't just try to fix a problem the feds helped create but provides a tool for local governments to better manage and evaluate their local police departments. The White House announced a police data initiative to be taken part in by the 21 cities participating in fast-track implementation of the task force's recommendations. The president went to Camden today, along with a throng of technology experts who would help Camden with the police data initiative.

From the White House:

Camden is just one of 21 communities currently participating in our Police Data Initiative. Through this effort, local police departments and other participants are responding first to Task Force recommendations within two streams of work:

  • Using open data to increase transparency, build community trust, and support innovation
  • Better using technology, such as early warning systems, to identify problems, increase internal accountability, and decrease inappropriate uses of force

The effort has focused on specific actions law enforcement agencies can take to make progress in these two areas. The collaboration has generated multiple commitments to action and the White House is working with agencies and key enabling partners now to drive quick implementation.

Unmentioned by the White House is how Camden disbanded its police department to get out of an onerous police union contract that prevented real reform. As Jim Epstein wrote in October:

Camden's old city-run police force abused its power and abrogated its duties. It took Camden cops one hour on average to respond to 911 calls, or more than six times the national average. They didn't show up for work 30 percent of the time, and an inordinate number of Camden police were working desk jobs. A union contract required the city to entice officers with extra pay to get them to accept crime-fighting shifts outside regular business hours. Last year, the city paid $3.5 million in damages to 88 citizens who saw their convictions overturned because of planted evidence, fabricated reports, and other forms of police misconduct.

In 2012, the murder rate in Camden was about five times that of neighboring Philadelphia—and about 18 times the murder rate in New York City.

Then in 2013 the city dissolved the 141-year-old department and replaced it with a new county-run force (known as "Metro") that was redesigned from the ground up—or every "police chief's dream," says Jose Cordero, 58, the highly regarded law enforcement expert and Bronx native who was brought in to configure the new agency. Cordero is best known for overseeing a 70 percent violent crime drop in East Orange (another impoverished Garden State town) when he was the city's police director there from 2004 to 2007, a period in which the city's poverty rate barely shifted.

Will President Obama mention this history, or the complementary concerns about Camden's shift toward total surveillance as policing? You can watch below. The president is expected to speak at any minute: