Get crime off street? They see one way

Camden residents hope a change limits all kinds of traffic.

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A car heads south on Camden's Louis Street, where soon that will be the only direction to go. Residents of the Whitman Park neighborhood and city police believe the change to one-way will restrict access by troublemakers and improve safety.

Making his daily rounds delivering mail, Steve Carmichael walks some of the meanest streets in Camden.

Open-air drug sales, violence, music blaring from cars - the Whitman Park neighborhood has it all.

"It's a war out there," Carmichael said last week.

But it's also where he and his family live.

Carmichael, who returned home to Camden in 1999 after 13 years in the military and five years in South Carolina, had to make a choice. Should he do nothing, or should he get involved?

He got involved. In addition to being acting president of his neighborhood association, Carmichael is a member of Camden's District Council Collaborative Board, a liaison between the community and the police and the city.

Thanks to a petition that Carmichael and another volunteer took door to door, a crime-fighting initiative pushed by the board will go into effect in about a week: Louis Street, in the heart of Whitman Park, is going one-way for a narrow 11-block stretch from Kaighns Avenue south to Sheridan Street.

It might not sound like much, but police and criminologists say it could make the dangerous corridor easier for police to monitor and more livable.

"I can't say making Louis Street one-way will be a silver bullet for all the problems, but it is one of the things we can do," Camden Police Capt. Al Handy said. "We constantly deal with drug crime, violent and disorderly behavior, and loud music."

Making heavily traveled, and heavily patrolled, Louis Street one-way should cut down on traffic and give police a better handle on who comes and goes, Handy said.

"It's got a lot of vehicle traffic and a lot of pedestrian traffic," he said. "There are also no stop signs, which gives people the ability to get up a lot of speed."

At Rutgers University-Camden, Jon'a Meyer, a professor of criminology, said the move was a good one.

"Controlling traffic by making streets one-way or by entirely closing them is an approach that has worked in other cities," Meyer said. "It's especially effective against folks coming into the area for, shall we say, illicit reasons."

It's one more tactic in deterring crime, Meyer said, like adding lighting in dark alleys and stop signs.

Ronald V. Clarke, a Rutgers professor of criminology in Newark, also saw merit in the Camden move.

"I can't say I know of any research that has looked at the impact of making streets one-way, but I would say it is consistent with closing streets, and there are quite a lot of studies that show that is effective," he said.

The stretch of Louis Street to go one-way is a bleak, stereotypical image of inner-city blight. Except for a mini-mart at Kaighns, it is essentially barren of businesses. A number of houses are boarded up, with graffiti on one reading "Death before dishonor."

"It's a hot spot when we look at crime analysis," Handy said, echoing City Councilman Bill Spearman, who represents the Whitman Park area as part of Ward 2.

"This is a first step toward reclaiming and revitalizing the neighborhood," said Spearman, who added that he was excited about the cooperation among the city, police and community.

Council approved the change to one-way after a groundswell of community support and activism.

In 2006, the District Council Collaborative Board identified Louis Street as a magnet for addicts in search of drugs.

Working with police, the board also determined that the street was not wide enough for two-way traffic, resulting in more accidents than normal. It also noted a lack of stop signs or stoplights. One helpful step, the group decided, would be making Louis Street one-way, a concept that found support in a petition circulated among residents.

"There are a lot of law-abiding citizens in the neighborhood who work hard every day and want to raise their families in a safe environment," Handy said.

Supporters say making the street one-way and adding stop signs will give the police something to enforce. Troublemakers will be easier for police to spot when they have to slow down or stop. Children headed to the park will be safer crossing the street. And fewer cars could get sideswiped. All in the greater aim of making Louis Street less friendly for troublemakers.

"We want to deter them from standing out there all day, every day," Carmichael said. "I have genuine hope, yes."


Contact staff writer Joe Logan

at 856-779-3220 or jlogan@phillynews.com.