Camden is where I grew up, it’s where I went to school and it’s the place that made me into the man I am today. The city provided me and my family with lifelong friendships, whether it was in the Parkside, Cramer Hill or South Camden neighborhoods, I grew up loving this city with every fiber of my being. Nevertheless, the city has struggled over the last 60 years, as we watched companies leave, poverty grow and crime increase. Despite these obstacles, my neighbors and community have persevered through it all because we are more resilient than anyone else in the nation.
That said, the city is a significantly different place than the one I grew up in the 70s, 80s and 90s- crime is down to its lowest level in 50 years, the unemployment rate is at its lowest level since records were kept and public and private investment in Camden is at its highest level since the industrial revolution. The Camden County Police Department continues to keep its promise that former McGuire Gardens resident, Chief Gabriel Rodriguez, made to me- that he would continue to reduce crime in the city working hand and hand with our residents in a unity policing model. This form of policing has become a model for other agencies from all over the world and was cited by President Barack Obama when he visited the city.
Furthermore, this seismic shift in the orientation of the department’s mission has decimated crime here. In 2021, total crime in Camden reached a 50-year low, the lowest it has been since I was born. We still have a long way to go to ensure that we all live in a safe environment, but the progress is tangible and can be felt by every resident. From 2012 to 2022, homicides have been reduced by almost 70%, shootings are down 50% and violent crime has dropped by more than 40%. This progress has taken place while we have seen the largest increase in crime in cities across the nation and by contrast Philadelphia has set a record for murders in 2021.
At the same time, the reduction of crime is also directly related to more successful outcomes from students in our school district. In the 2011-2012 academic year, exactly three students graduated college-ready in the entire public-school system in Camden. Since that time, the school district had to set up a college decision tracking system to keep up with all our college-bound students and we just hosted a college signing day where more than 400 kids will be going on to pursue higher education. Additionally, the graduation rate has skyrocketed in schools throughout the city.
Some days, I can’t believe that I stand in the same city that I grew up in. Private and public investment has brought nearly $3 billion to the city and the resulting economic boom has lifted countless families out of poverty.
Companies like Contemporary Graphics, IPak, ResinTech, Action-Pak, American Water, Campbell’s Soup, Cooper University Healthcare, Subaru and so many others, from Fortune 500s to small enterprises, have brought jobs and opportunity to Camden building back the regional significance of the city. These companies have created thousands of jobs with thousands more on the way.
In addition, these companies are committed to growing within our community, as more than 40% of them have located their campuses in Camden neighborhoods. In contrast to other cities in the state with similar waterfront exposure such as Jersey City, corporations in Camden have found a diverse and attractive landscape outside the waterfront, locating themselves throughout our City.
In summation, Camden continues to thrive coming out of the pandemic unlike most cities throughout the nation. The progress here is undeniable, but we still have miles to go to achieve our potential of becoming a 21st century city. As I have said before, a rising tide lifts all boats and we are seeing the positive effects of a safer city, more high school diplomas, college degrees and jobs reshaping our community.
Camden City Mayor Victor G. Carstarphen is currently in his first full term in office and previously served on city council and as the former coach of the Camden High basketball team.