George E. Norcross III wanted me to know that President Obama would be personally checking out Camden's approach to community policing.

"Obama visiting Camden on Monday," proclaimed the subject line of Norcross' Thursday e-mail blast, which was terse - but spoke volumes about his role in remaking the city that made him.

If the emerging Camden of new cops, new schools, new corporate headquarters, new manufacturing jobs, and a new master story line has a maestro, it's Norcross.

What music to his ears the president's speech Monday must have been.

"I've come here to Camden to do something that might have been unthinkable just a few years ago - and that's to hold you up as a symbol of promise for the nation," Obama told a respectful crowd in the lobby of Camden's splendid Kroc Center.

The president credited the work of the Camden County Police Department, the establishment and promotion of which has been a Norcross priority. He called its charismatic chief, Scott Thomson, an "outstanding" law enforcement officer.

"This city is on to something," Obama said, adding, "If it's working here, it can work anywhere."

It was as if the tragic narrative of Camden as "America's most dangerous city" was being rewritten, if not replaced or even erased, before our eyes.

Accomplishing this has long been a goal for Norcross, the peerless Democratic power-wielder, and his unlikely ally (albeit, kindred spirit), Republican Gov. Christie.

Christie couldn't be at the Kroc; he was campaigning out of state yet again. But the governor's spokesman issued an elaborate statement, with links and video, positioning him as a key to creating the city's "example for the nation."

Even preliminary success, it seems, has many parents.

The statement didn't mention that state budget cuts forced the mass layoffs of Camden police officers in 2011, ushering in new lows in lawlessness and new highs in homicides.

But those were the bad old days.

By 2013, the Camden Police Department is history, and the "Metro cops" - higher-tech, generally younger, more visible, and less expensive than the old-school predecessors - are on the streets.

"Most dangerous" quickly gives way to happier headlines. Crime statistics some criticize as selective get repeated early and often. (Obama repeated a couple, too.)

Meanwhile, questions about excessive force and overzealous enforcement - images so at odds with the b-ball tourneys and ice cream festivals on the department's Facebook page - get brushed away like the musty dust of the past.

In the Kroc audience sat indomitable, indefatigable city activist Kelly Francis, affable as ever but characteristically unsparing in his criticism of the new law enforcement narrative in Camden.

True "community policing," he said, ought to be done by people who are "members of that community."

Some folks I know in Camden say police-community relations really have improved under the new department, however.

"My personal experience with the Metro cops has been good," Ajeenah Riggs, the proprietor of the 1216 Haddon Avenue Boutique in Parkside, says.

"In my neighborhood, the police have been visible," says Waterfront South resident Shaneka Boucher, adding, "They're more involved in community activities."

Says Kelli Wright, an administrative assistant and lifelong city resident from East Camden, "I feel a little safer. I can definitely say that."

Grassroots statements like these are refreshingly free of the premature lily-gilding favored by some at the top.

Amid the excitement and pageantry of the presidential visit, a beaming Norcross stopped to chat briefly with reporters.

Having Obama come to Camden to recognize the department "is extraordinary," he said. "It's something to be proud of."

Absolutely.

But what about the concerns about excessive force and other issues?

"I haven't heard those," Norcross said. "I've heard nothing but applause."

kriordan@phillynews.com

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