Tonight I was in rehearsal for a production of Waiting for Lefty over in Camden, New Jersey. (For more info, have a look here.) We had begun our very first run of the entire show since our table reading back last month. My first entrance is from the lobby of the theatre, which has four windows that look out onto the corner of Jasper Street and S. 4th Street. So if someone is standing in the lobby the happenings on the street can feel very close.
As I was waiting for my cue I hear quick, regular thuds striking the sidewalk from up the street. As they sped past the theatre lobby, I looked out the window and saw a man who had evidently done something illegal. I know this because he was being chased, on foot, by a Camden Police officer. The chase took them about halfway up the next block on 4th Street until the suspect was eventually caught. The officer cuffed the guy and sat him in the back of a squad car that pulled up a moment later.
I've never seen a police chase before, and even though I was well removed from the actual events, it was still quite frightening.
What's even more frightening, however, is that Camden, New Jersey has recently cut half of its police force. For the uninitiated, Camden, New Jersey has been ranked in the top 10 most dangerous cities in America since 1998 by the Morgan Quinto Press. As Jon Stewart put it on The Daily Show last week, "Camden is the place in New Jersey where people from Newark go to feel better about Newark." It is one of the most depressed communities on this continent.
Now, I've been assured by a lifetime Camden resident who's intricately linked to the community that the cuts in the force won't mean a diminished police presence. But this development will affect the atmosphere of the criminal element in the city. Crooks watch the news, too. And if there's word their number one adversary has been limited in its effectiveness, they are going to take advantage.
I hope the city gets its house in order and puts those officers back to work. There are very few places that need them more. I don't want to see anymore police chases before I go on stage.