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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Crime stats in Camden taking a "Trenton" turn

Camden is apparently experiencing a miniature criminal renaissance as new police tactics appear to be resulting in reductions in certain crime categories, according to an Associated Press report.

But wedged way down in the bottom of the same report was a note that Camden has recently experienced homicide number 43, a number equal to all the homicides that occurred in New Jersey's worst city in all of 2007.

The murder rate in Camden will likely surpass that of the previous year when the new crime tactics were not in place. That definitely calls into question the effectiveness of those tactics, and for those familiar with recent trends in Trenton's crime statistics, it could raise some suspicion about the Camden Police Department's policies regarding the recording of those same statistics.

That much can be extrapolated from the experience of the City of Trenton, under recently ousted Police Director Joseph Santiago and his pal, current Mayor Douglas H. Palmer. Crime statistics took a similar dive after Mr. Santiago took over the helm of the department in 2003, that is, every statistic except murder.

Murders are unique, because the death of a person is an act that is quite hard to hide or distort. But thefts, assaults, and other crimes that are recorded in the official compilation of crime statistics are less impervious to the willful distortions of police directors whose job performance, and that of their bosses, is based upon the trends in the very same statistics they are supposed to compile.

Officers at a city event recently remarked how Mr. Santiago, who recently left Trenton after breaking the city's residence ordinance, bent and warped crime statistics as best he could, giving the appearance of a city where every single crime rate went down - except murders.

Last year Trenton had 25 murders, and in 2005 the city set an all-time record with 31, all in the middle of a drop in pretty much every other category of crime universally recorded for reporting to the FBI.

That downward trend, however much it was manipulated behind the scenes, was held up as evidence to all in Trenton and beyond that Mr. Santiago's contentious and often wasteful police leadership style was paying dividends for the city, even as every resident knew that the situation on the streets was steadily worsening.

The same is probably going on in Camden, where a tweaking of anti-crime tactics have allegedly resulted in a large drop in many categories except homicides, which promis to soon advance beyond the very level they attained last year prior to the new tactics.

Unfortunately for places like Trenton and Camden, warped statistical work and the actual level of crime within a city often become intertwined with politics, meaning that politicians, officials, and others can point to crime trends as meaning something when they really mean nothing.

That will likely happen in Trenton in the near future.

When normal statistical practices are again practiced following Mr. Santiago's departure, the level of murders will likely stay static, while the rates of other, less heinous crimes formerly manipulated under the old regime will naturally go up.

And when that happens, Mayor Palmer and his associates will likely point fingers, blaming the new department leadership and those who pressured and pushed for Mr. Santiago's ouster for causing a false spike in crime.

In Trenton, and possibly in Camden and elsewhere, crime statistics have fallen victim to politics, and no longer resemble reality.

Just ask the residents.

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