'Reason for concern' in Camden crime rise

In post-layoff Camden, where city leaders and union officials still can't come to terms with one another, more people on the street are settling their differences with guns.

According to year-to-date statistics, there have been 79 aggravated assaults with firearms this year in Camden, a whopping 259 percent increase from 2010, when there were 22 firearm assaults at this time.

Overall violent crime is up 19 percent in the city.

"It's astounding. It's not even warm yet," said an officer who lost his job in the January mass layoffs. "Once the weather breaks, crime goes up. Wait till June, July and August roll around."

The year-to-date stats do show reductions in theft, robbery and slayings. The 43 percent reduction in murders did not include the discovery of a body on Atlantic Avenue yesterday afternoon that police are treating as a homicide.

All nonviolent crimes except theft were up by double-digit percentages, however, including a 60 percent increase in burglaries.

Mayor Dana Redd's spokesman, Robert Corrales, said "criminal activity is cyclical" and is up throughout New Jersey. Statewide crime statistics for 2011 were not available yesterday.

Last month, Redd introduced a budget that Corrales said could have brought back 47 officers. Council voted it down, and Redd is continuing to seek concessions from union officials.

"The mayor's commitment to public safety has never wavered," Corrales said in a statement.

Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, said a bad economy, an influx of nationally organized gangs and a decreased police force all play a part in the spike.

"There's certainly reason for concern," he said.

Union leaders were often accused of fear-mongering in recent months when they predicted dramatic increases in post-layoff crime.

"We weren't trying to stoke fear in anyone; we were telling the truth," said John Williamson, president of Camden's Fraternal Order of Police lodge. "Nobody wins when it comes to an 'I told you so.' I don't like those words."