Defund the police? New Jersey police Captain shares how changes brought their crime rate to 50-year low

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — While protesters across the nation are calling for the ‘defunding’ and ‘dismantling’ of police, one local pastor shared his thoughts as well as the worries from the community.

Soar Assembly Pastor Justin Francis says he had to do some research of his own to understand what it means to defund police departments. He believes the death of George Floyd and several others have helped spark nationwide conversations. But he says the conversations are not enough and the changes has been long overdue.

Francis said some community members are concerned that this is just a trend and real changes won’t be seen.

“My opinion is that it’s not about defunding the police but it’s holding accountability with police. I don’t think it needs to just be this system that we keep seeing repeated time and time again basically it’s causing people to lose trust in the police and that’s where the dismantling comes from,” explained Pastor Francis.

Pastor Francis remains optimistic to see positive changes, not only nationwide, but for the community as well.

“Many people have either a fear for the police now or they have a distrust for the police so I think people want change and or accountability in the police department and I personally think that’s what we need,” the pastor added.

An NIU professor clarified many misconceptions when it comes to these conversations.

“It doesn’t mean to take funding away from the police completely or stop funding them rather it’s a battle cry it’s a call for action,” Dr. Jule Lange explained.

According to Dr. Lange, the assistant professor for the Department of Public Administration at NIU says people are calling for the restructuring of the police system. One police agency in Camden, New Jersey has done that, so Eyewitness News reached out for their perspective.

“It was a real shock it was a real culture shock there was a different mandate to the new department, which was community lead policing,” explained Cpt. Zsakheiem James, Camden, NJ Police*

Capetian Zsakheiem James has been part of the Camden Police for over 27 years. However, 8 years ago he got to experience how the police dismantled their unit and started all over again.

All the officers were laid off and had to re-apply again and go through new training. The first order of business was getting to know the community.

“It was a shock it was different from what we were doing to walk a beat and just knock on doors and say “I’m an officer here just to meet you and let you know I’m here to help you” and that was different the only time we interacted with the public was pretty much when they called 911 and there was a crisis,” Cpt. James said.

Community poling meant the officers were out in the community everyday, knocking on doors and even having the police chief host community BBQ’s. It was a way to help earn the trust of a community who had lost their faith in the police.

This goes to show that calls for reformation aren’t anything new.

“What we’re seeing right now is the expression of decades of frustration of how certain communities have experienced the police,” Dr. Lange added.

The changes in Camden were not seen overnight but over the course of a few years–they did see results.

“Right now we’re at a 50 year crime low we haven’t seen numbers like this in 50 years it just took a process of us going out and meeting the community and over the years it got better and better,” Cpt. James explained.

Captian James said it is possible for cities like Rockford to adopt their current policing model.

“The model can be applied anywhere it’s just about getting to meet the people, getting into the community before they need you as a police officer getting to meet you as a human being,” he explained.

The police captain also says current policing needs to change across the world and needs to be updated.

“There are a lot of people screaming defund the police when they should be screaming reform the police, there needs to be reform in policing it needs to change and it needs to grow,” Cpt. James added.

Captain James was one of many police officers invited out for a Black Lives Matter March. He was front and center with protesters and said it was important to remind members of the community that they are stronger together.

“They asked us if we could march with them and so we marched in solidarity because we all agree what happened with George Floyd was horrific and what’s happening around the country and what’s happening to other people of color is ridiculous and needs to be addressed,” Cpt. James concluded.

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