Gov. Chris Christie went to Camden to herald a reboot of the police department patrolling the state's most crime-ridden city and said Tuesday he expects to soon announce progress on economic development there.

Gov. Chris Christie and Camden Mayor Dana Redd in Camden June 3 (Tim Larsen, Governor's Office)

He spoke on the same day a new class of 70 additional police officers for the city was graduating, enough to boost the Camden County Police Department's Metro Division force to nearly 400.

The old city police department was dissolved in May 2013 as part of a complete policing overhaul championed by both the Republican governor and the Democrats who run the Camden city and county governments.

Officials have been publicizing a drop in reports of violent crime. The police department says violent crime is down 9 percent compared with year-to-date data from 2013 and 25 percent compared with the same period in 2012.

"While it's too early to declare victory, there have been some real signs of progress in Camden," Christie said in an event in front of City Hall.

Over the last several decades, Camden has never had a shortage of politicians saying the city is about to turn the corner, though it remains one of the most violent and impoverished in the United States. All of them agree: Camden needs better schools, safer streets and more jobs.

Going back to the 1990s, hope has been stoked by the openings of tourist attractions such as an aquarium and minor-league ballpark on the waterfront that was once full of factories; promises of supermarkets for residents; major drug network busts; an infusion of state money to expand hospitals and colleges and modernize infrastructure; expansion of charter schools and other educational options; and the Campbell Soup Company's decision to remain in Camden and take charge of redeveloping the area around its corporate headquarters.

But the city's struggles have remained.

Christie said Tuesday that he expects to be back over the next six months to announce new businesses, but neither he nor other officials said what they might be.

A government official told The Associated Press last week that the Philadelphia 76ers are looking at the city for a new basketball practice facility. But the team has been coy about its plans.

Residents often say that the city used to be better. But 89-year-old Roger Barker, who attended Christie's appearance Tuesday, said his neighborhood, Liberty Park, has been cleaned up with the addition of more intense police patrols.

He said that a few years ago, after nearly half the city's police force was laid off in 2011, police did not always respond to calls.

Now, he said, gunplay has disappeared from the area and officers are again responsive. "By the time you hang up the phone," he said, "they're there."


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