Layoffs coming to a town near you

As Camden, N.J., residents approach a week since nearly half of its police force and one-third of its firefighters were laid off, public-policy analysts fear more municipalities could find themselves in the same boat due to growing budget shortfalls.

Twenty-five percent of city financial officers said financial pressures have forced them to make public-safety cuts, according to a 2010 annual report from the National League of Cities. Last week, Camden laid off 168 police and 67 firefighters because of a $26.5 million deficit.

“It’s not surprising that they would look to public safety, since it’s where the money is,” said Tracy Gordon of the Brookings Institute, a national public policy think tank. “I think there’s an issue about how much you can do to reduce compensation.”

Several cities have laid off police officers amid the recession — many of which are already plagued with high crime-rates, such as Newark, N.J., and Oakland,?Pa. In Philadelphia, budget woes the past two years have forced police to reduce overtime or eliminate positions, but avoid layoffs.

“The stress of the economic crisis is changing things. There is no longer any room for sacred cows,” Newark’s Police Director Garry McCarthy said in a report from the Police Executive Research Forum.

Some Camden residents are holding out hope that many of the layoffs will be reversed by a new bargaining agreement between the police union and the city, but it is unclear whether that will happen. As of Sunday night, no new details emerged about negotiations between unions and the city.

Border crossing

Jerry Ratcliffe, chair of Temple University’s Criminal Justice Department, said it is unlikely for Camden’s criminal activity to spill into Philadelphia’s borders or vice versa due to layoffs, even if crime might increase longterm.

“Most people don’t travel very far to commit crime. The bridge toll may be only $4 … but it does a great job of keeping crime on each side of the river,” Ratcliffe said.