Former Camden police chief on how to rebuild police

J. Scott Thomson speaks out on “GMA” about his success in disbanding the police force in Camden, New Jersey, and transitioning to “community policing.”
3:34 | 06/11/20

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Transcript for Former Camden police chief on how to rebuild police
We want to talk about your experience in Camden. Back in 2013 you actually disbanded and transformed your police force as your city was facing a public safety crisis, high murder rate coupled with scores of complaints about excessive force. What did you learn from it? What did you do? So, 2012 was arguably the darkest hour in the city's history in terms of public we had extremely high levels of mistrust. Virtually no legitimacy with the community and a bold political decision was made to disband the police force and try something new. So we created a new policing paradigm and knew we had the rare student to build culture as opposed to the challenge of changing culture so we really created this organization on three bedrock principles and that was that our officers were going to be guardians and not warriors and engage in levels of community empowerment and would embrace de-escalation as a part of our culture and not just as a training exercise. Define that term community we hear that and hear community policing a lot. That can mean a lot of different things to many different people. Reporter: When there's 18,000 police departments in the country and probably 18,000 different definitions for community policing, and community policing cannot be a unit. It can't be a group of officers that are going and doing nice things in the neighborhood. It can't just end there. It's got to be an organizational philosophy embraced from the top on down. And in Camden we did the extraordinary move. We got rid of our patrol division and our entire police department operates as community officers. The officers' jobs are to get to the root cause issues of the problems. Don't look to arrest, issue summons or use force to try to make things right. We want to work with the community. We want to be coalescers, conveners. Working with them and forcing the law with them and not just on them so that we can make their quality of life better. What we have found is we've reduced murders by nearly 80%. We went from having 175 open air drug markets to less than 20. We have excessive force complaints dropped 95% and the best thing about all this was that the revolution of the city has been more of the empowerment of the people reclaiming their city, more so than the police militarizing it and enforcing the law. Dig beneath the slogan defund the police. How can you replicate it in other cities and counties across the country? I think you need to be careful with the defunding. First of all, I'm not sure which definition we're going with. I heard it from abolishing the police, I don't think that is really an option to repurposing money to get to issues. Now, I don't think there is a Progressive police chief in the country that wouldn't trade ten officers for another boys and girls club. When you look at the more challenged police departments and peel the layers of the onion back there's been a defunding of that over the years in all the wrong places. There's many organizations that the only time the officers receive use of force training or de-escalation training is initial onboarding in the academy and go 20, 30 years and never receive another refresher course. Thanks very much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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