NJ Town Ranked #1 In Crimes Per Capita Lowers Rate By Replacing Entire Police Force

Eugenio Olmo, left, and a dog and his owner in Camden, N.J.

Eugenio Olmo, left, and a dog and his owner in Camden, N.J.  (Serafin Gomez)

Eugenio Olmo, an elderly Puerto Rican man with a face cracked by wrinkles and wisdom, stood on a corner recently, watching flashing police lights in front of his house.

"For me it has been great living here," he said, his Spanish words barely audible over the autumn wind and the noisy sirens. "No one messes with me."

"But around the corner," he pointed to a street of shuttered homes that began three feet from where he stood. "It is very hot. They have just killed three people down there."

For over 20 years, Olmo, 85, has witnessed the drug violence that plagues this city of 77,000, directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Nearly half the population is Latino.

"People that are involved in that kind of business, they are the ones who have the problems," he said. "I don't have any problems."

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One of the deadliest and poorest areas in the U.S., this town of only nine square miles has for years been overwhelmed by crime.

In 2012, according to the FBI, Camden was ranked first in the U.S. in violent crimes per capita of all cities with more than 50,000 residents. Its per capita murder rate was nearly 12 times the national average. According to Camden County police chief Scott Thomson, it was even higher than Honduras' murder rate, the highest in the world.

"People became so desensitized to the sound of gunfire in their own neighborhoods, they weren't even calling the police," Thomson said in an interview with Fox News Latino. "Now that's scary."

In an effort to combat an ineffective unionized police force – the absentee rate for officers on any given day was around 30 percent – Camden County officials dissolved the city's entire force and replaced it with a whole new department. 

The reorganization increased the amount of police on the streets and incorporated cutting edge technology such as ShotSpotter rooftop monitors. The initiative has already gotten results, according to city leaders.

Over the summer months this year, the murder rate fell by 22 percent and crime overall was down 15 percent, according to data provided by Camden County officials.

Sgt. Linda Alicea, 39, in charge of the community safety division, is the highest ranking Latina in the new police force. Alicea, who is of Puerto Rican descent, grew up in the city and her family still lives there.

"It is a great experience to be able to experience growing up in the city and being able to relate to the youth and the culture and diversity," Alicea says as she squints and peers down 6th Street, dubbed “Heroine Highway” by the locals.

"You want to make things better," she says.

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Serafin Gomez is a White House Producer for FOX News Channel, who also covered the 2016 election as a Special Events & Politics producer and former special campaign correspondent for Fox News Latino. Fin formerly worked as the Miami Bureau Producer for Fox News Channel where he covered Florida Politics & Latin America. Follow him on Twitter: @Finnygo