CAMDEN — Awaiting President Barack Obama’s appearance here in the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross lauded the leader’s decision to highlight the progress the county’s police force has made over the past several years — but cautioned that “nobody’s declaring victory” in lawmakers’ efforts to shore up a city fallen on hard times.
“This is an important day for Camden, but also for community policing in America,” Norcross told PolitickerNJ prior to Obama’s entrance. “We’ve seen tragedies occur, whether in Ferguson or Baltimore, and Camden is different. So what the president is doing today, and he’ll talk about it, is that things can be done differently.”
Elected to Congress last year after serving in the state legislature, Norcross has called Camden a “national model” for community-based law enforcement, particularly in the wake of unrest surrounding instances of police violence in places like Baltimore, MD, and New York City. He and Camden County lawmakers — along with his brother, South Jersey power broker George Norcross III — are credited with leveraging political influence to kickstart the city’s economy and greatly reduce violent crime.
“As I call it, this is THP,” Norcross said. “There’s trust, there needs to be that trust in the community. There needs to be a partnership, because uniformed officers can’t do it all. There needs to be support from the neighborhood. And there’s hope, there needs to be hope for the future, and I think that’s what you’re seeing here today.”
Obama himself last month named Camden a “Promise Zone,” a designation that will help the city secure federal funding for revitalization efforts.
“It’s one day at a time. The fact that each time the new county force is rolled out into a new neighborhood, they went door by door, knocking on the doors, with boots on the ground, developing relationships. It really is about those relationship,” Norcross said, before stressing that officials’ jobs here are not done.
“But let’s be very careful — nobody is declaring victory here. This is incremental growth in the right direction. So it’s working together, that’s how we’ll win,” he said.
Notably absent among a crowd of Camden County heavyweights is Gov. Chris Christie, who has leaned on this city heavily to highlight the state’s progress on urban renewal and police reform in recent months. Christie was present during the president’s last visit to the state, when he spoke at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to announce a ratcheting down of the country’s military presence on Afghanistan and Iraq, but is back in New Hampshire today, where’s he’s spent time building support for a likely presidential run.
Norcross, however, said the Republican’s absence was simply due to scheduling conflicts.
“When it comes to partisan politics, that’s probably the most remarkable thing that’s happened in Camden, no matter what level of government,” he said. “From the president on down to the city council, there’s never any area that I’ve witnessed in New Jersey that wouldn’t put aside politics and work together. You don’t have the egos here.”