In this week's Huffington, John Rudolf examines a plan that would revamp the police force in Camden, New Jersey, a crime-ridden city that routinely tops the FBI's list of most dangerous places. Residents and city officials agree that Camden needs a big change: in addition to suffering from widespread crime that terrorizes the population and demoralizes the police officers who try to contain it, Camden is the most impoverished city in the country. Forty-two percent of residents live below the poverty line.
To reverse these trends, local leaders -- including the city council and Gov. Chris Christie -- have proposed a radical and controversial plan. Rather than improve the existing Camden Police Department, they want to replace it entirely -- an approach that entails firing the existing police force. Opposition is fierce, though unlikely to stop the creation of a new force, which will be called the Camden Metro Division.
Camden's cops feel embittered and abandoned by the community they've been trying to protect. "We risk our lives every day," one cop tells Rudolf. "And this is what you get in return. See you later and don't let the door hit you on the way out." And while Camden's cops will be able to apply for the new force, many say the approach is flawed, since the Metro Division plans to hire cops -- at much lower salaries -- from outside New Jersey, which could inflame tensions in already-simmering neighborhoods. As James Harris, president of the New Jersey NAACP, put it: "Do not eliminate the Camden Police Department. Find ways of improving it, but do not eliminate it."
Elsewhere in the issue Michelangelo Signorile looks back at an article he wrote 20 years ago for The Advocate, "Out at The New York Times: Gays, Lesbians, AIDS and Homophobia Inside America's Newspaper of Record." It began with Signorile's interview with the paper's assistant national editor Jeff Schmalz, the first Times staffer to come out as gay and reveal that he had AIDS. Then Arthur Suzlberger, Jr. and top editors including Max Frankel and Joseph Lelyveld spoke on the record, ending the paper's culture of silence on gay issues and confronting its inadequate AIDS coverage.
This shift had reverberations far beyond the paper's offices. As Signorile writes in his new introduction to the original article, the paper's "negligence on AIDS early on had a detrimental effect on bringing in-depth, life-saving attention to an epidemic that had been callously ignored by political leaders and sensationalized by other media." And confronting gay issues actually helped propel the paper to a new level of journalistic integrity: "The Times became a leader on coverage of LGBT issues as well as a leader among media companies."
This piece first appeared in our FREE weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available in the iTunes App store.