Local/State

Camden sets homicide record with Friday killing

Friday, November 16, 2012

A homicide in Camden Friday morning was the 59th of the year, setting a one-year record for slayings in a city that has long struggled with violence.

The Camden County prosecutor's office said Charles Nicholson, 44, of Camden, was shot multiple times about 11:45 a.m. while sitting in a parked black Pontiac on the 1600 block of Independence Road in Camden.

The shooter fired through the driver's side window and fled on foot, investigators said.

This murder means that 2012 has surpassed 1995 as the year with the most slayings in city history.

If New Jersey, with 8.8 million people, had the same homicide rate over a full year, that would translate into more than 7,000 murders per year - or about 20 times as many as it has in a typical year.

Another cross will be planted in front of City Hall by a group of activists commemorating homicide victims there, another candle will be lit at a sad year-end traditional vigil in the city of about 77,000.

Camden is a city that regularly ranks as one of the nation's poorest and most violent - even in years with relatively few homicides.

It's been a tough time in the business of policing the city. In January 2011, nearly half the police force was laid off in a budget crunch.

The Camden County government is now taking applications for a new police force it's forming to replace the city's department. Officials say that replacing the force will be a way to get more officers patrolling the streets.

The new force is expected to have lower per-officer expenses because more officers will start at the low end of the pay scale and old contractual obligations such as shift differentials can be avoided. It is not clear when the officers will be hired and the transition to the new force will begin.

This week, city officials have pushed for a surge in officers from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to work in the city.

The group planting the crosses believes that police are not the answer. The Rev. Jeff Putthoff, a Roman Catholic priest who is one of the organizers of the anti-violence group Stop the Trauma on People in Camden, said earlier this week that he's come to see Camden as a place where most people are traumatized by living in a city that functions much like a war zone.

He said that the city does not merely need more police, jobs or better housing opportunities to break the cycle of violence. Rather, he said, its residents need help working through the violence and stress they have endured.

The city was the subject of a massive revitalization effort a decade ago that has led to expansions of its university and hospital campuses. But so far, the hoped-for private development has not followed and amid a sluggish national economy, the problems of crime and poverty have only deepened.

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