Camden, New Jersey, is just on the other side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, a short hop across the Delaware River. We see it all the time. We drive through or around it frequently. We know it’s a bad place to be.
But just how bad is Camden? Journalist Matt Taibbi paid a visit, and the result is the bleak new Rolling Stone Camden article: “Apocalypse, New Jersey: A Dispatch from America’s Most Desperate Town.”
Below, some of the most depressing things I learned from it:
• There are an estimated 175 open-air drug markets in Camden, a city of less than 9,000 square miles. With a meager population of 77,000 people, that's one open-air drug market per 440 people, children included.
• Municipal tax revenue in Camden was a paltry $25 million in 2011, which didn't even pay for the $65 million police force.
• Police Chief J. Scott Thomson said that Camden was "somewhere between Honduras and Somalia" in terms of its crime.
• In 2012, Camden's per-capita murder rate was ten times that of New York's, making it officially the most dangerous place in the United States. "The carnage left Camden's crime rate on par with places like Haiti after its 2010 earthquake," writes Taibbi.
• In 2011 and 2012, there were times when fewer than 20 police officers were patrolling the streets of Camden.
• Big Brother has come to Camden in a very big way: There are 121 surveillance cameras covering "virtually every inch of sidewalk"; the city has 35 microphones planted to detect gunshot locations, a technology known as SpotShotter; new scanners read license plates of cars suspected of being in the neighborhood for drugs, and police will send warning letters to the address on the car registration ("Johnny, what were you doing in Camden with my BMW?"); police here recently debuted SkyPatrol, a crane-cum-observation post that lets police scan six square blocks with thermal-imaging equipment.
• Approximately 1 in 3 shootings in Camden goes unreported.
• Zero — that's the police department's black Czech shepherd — has nabbed 65 suspects in chases.
• A few years ago, police had to serve warrants at one particularly dangerous housing-project tower called Northgate 1 (apparently part of the complex is known as Little Iraq), and "they were so concerned with ground-level resistance that they invaded from the sky, like soldiers in Afghanistan, rappelling onto the roof by helicopter," writes Taibbi.
• More than 4 out of 5 of the people buying heroin in Camden are "young, white and from the suburbs."
• Apparently Camden has a reputation for having the best heroin on this side of the United States. Who knew?
• Camden's last supermarket closed in September, rendering the city a "food desert," according to the USDA.
• The city lost a third of its population since the 1950s, and approximately one-third of what's left is under the age of 18.
For more, go read the Rolling Stone Camden article "Apocalypse, New Jersey: A Dispatch From America's Most Desperate Town".