When you tell people you live in Camden, New Jersey, you often get looks of “ugh” or “why”, as if you need a specific reasoning for living in this town. While that is the case for me, as my partner is currently finishing up his medical degree at Cooper Hospital, it’s not the case for all of our neighbors. Believe it or not, people actually choose to live in Camden now as opposed to the neighboring city of Philadelphia, and for that, you can thank Anne Milgram and her friend Big Data.
Anne Milgram was the 57th Attorney General of New Jersey, and started her service to the city of Camden in 2007, at the height of Camden’s “war on crime”, when it was considered the most dangerous city in America. In 2007 I was a high school junior, and only ever went into Camden New Jersey with my parents to attend a concert at the then Susquehanna Bank Center. Now, Camden had many Attorney Generals before, so why was Milgram so different? The answer: she used Big Data to fight crime, restructure the Camden Police Department and anticipate the criminals next moves.
In her TED talk Milgram states:
“I spent the day in the police department, and I was taken into a room with senior police officials, all of whom were working hard and trying very hard to reduce crime in Camden. What I saw in that room, as we talked about how to reduce crime, were a series of officers with a lot of little yellow sticky notes. They would take a yellow sticky and they would write something on it and they would put it up on a board. We weren’t using data-driven policing. We were essentially trying to fight crime with yellow Post-it notes.1”
As Milgram states, there was no processes in place to collect data in 2007, and in essence the Camden City Police Dept. was fighting crime blind. What did she do to change this? She initiated data and analytic processes into the criminal justice system as a whole, and began to identify who was in their system, why they were there, and who could be connected to potential crimes in process throughout Camden. By the time Milgram left office in New Jersey, crime had decreased by 26%, with a 41% decline in murders1.
So did this decline continue after Milgram’s departure? You BET! In 2017, the city’s murder rate hit a 30-year low, with the total homicides in the city at 232. However, data and analytic statistics still have a long way to go within this police force, and current Police Chief J. Scott says the statistics show “progress, not success”.
I empower you to continue your dig into the statistics of Camden and how as a city they are digging themselves out of being considered a “down and out town”, and I pose the question, in what other cities do you feel Big Data could save lives?
“[I am] more proud of the changes in the neighborhoods, where residents feel safe letting their kids play outside, when before they did not2.”
If you have the time, check out this amazing community violence intervention program, which still works to drive down gang and gun violence in the city.