By Maddie Hanna
Gov. Christie returned to Camden on Monday to praise the efforts of the county police force, pledging to stand with law enforcement while pushing his campaign-trail accusations that President Obama -- who was in New Jersey to address criminal justice reform -- has failed to support police.
The Republican governor, who has tried to cast himself as the law-and-order candidate in the 2016 presidential race, said he would sign an executive order declaring Nov. 5 a law enforcement appreciation day in New Jersey.
"Officers do not feel as appreciated and as safe as they used to," Christie said at a news conference at Camden County Police Headquarters, flanked by county Police Chief Scott Thomson, Camden Mayor Dana Redd and a row of officers.
Earlier Monday during a round of morning-show interviews, Christie hammered Obama over policing issues. He referred to remarks by FBI Director James Comey, who recently described a "chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year."
While acknowledging that data were not available to support his statement, Comey said during a speech last week at the University of Chicago Law School that he had a "strong sense" increases in violent crime in some cities could be attributed to heightened scrutiny that had made police less aggressive enforcers.
After his news conference, Christie again cited Comey's remarks when asked what he meant by saying Obama had failed to support police.
"It's pretty evident. The president always takes the opportunity to think the worst of the men and women in uniform," Christie told reporters. "His rhetoric has not been supportive at all of the men and women in uniform around this country."
Of Obama's visit to New Jersey, Christie said: "What's happening here and what he's celebrating today has nothing to do with anything that the federal government's had anything to do with."
"And frankly, given the really negative nature of what's been going on with law enforcement across the country on the president's watch, I thought it was important for us to acknowledge law enforcement," Christie said.
Josh Earnest, press secretary to Obama, said Monday that Christie's "comments on this regard have been particularly irresponsible, but not surprising for somebody whose poll numbers are closer to an asterisk than they are double digits. Clearly this is part of his strategy to turn this around. We'll see how that works out."
Christie stood by his recent criticism of Black Lives Matter, which he has described as "calling for the murders of police officers."
That drew the criticism of some black leaders in New Jersey. Richard Smith, president of the state NAACP, suggested the low-polling governor was trying to compete with GOP rival Donald Trump, playing to "a very insidious base that's angry in this country."
Christie said Monday that he had "great respect" for Smith and others and had heard the criticism. But he said it hadn't changed his mind, describing Black Lives Matter as "a destructive movement that's anti-law enforcement."
"We disagree on this one subject. That's OK. There's lots of other things we do agree on," Christie said, noting the ban-the-box and bail reform laws.
While highlighting Comey's comments giving credence to a so-called Ferguson effect as a reason for increases in crime in some cities, Christie used the event in Camden to tout reductions in crime in New Jersey.
As he has previously, Christie credited the creation of the Camden County police force in 2013 -- after the dismantling of the city squad -- with reducing crime in the city, citing a focus on community policing.
Camden demonstrates there "doesn't have to be a divide between police officers and the community they serve," said Christie, who earlier Monday met with several members of the department describing progress in Camden.
One, Sgt. Ralph Thorton, said he had grown up in Camden and was awed recently to see someone riding a bike and jogging -- a rare occurrence during his childhood.
"It is an extraordinary model during a really difficult, troubling time in our country," Christie said.
Christie has promoted declines in crime in Camden since 2012 -- the city's most violent year on record -- including a 53 percent drop in homicides.
Homicides hit an all-time high that year after budget cuts prompted layoffs in the former city department.
Camden has had 29 homicides this year. Last year, it had 25 as of Nov. 2 and ended up with 33 homicides.
Christie dismissed a question Monday about homicides being up compared to the same point last year, pointing to the declines since 2012.
"If you don't think it's different here, you haven't spent nearly as much time here as I have," said Christie, who said his appearance Monday marked his 28th in the city.
Camden's police department has 350 officers, below its intended goal of 426, and has struggled with turnover. More than 100 officers have resigned since the county-run force began in May 2013, replacing the former city police department.
"You're always going to have turnover in police departments, and the fact is I have great confidence in Chief Thomson's leadership," Christie told reporters Monday. "We'll continue to monitor it and make sure it's not something that winds up damaging their ability to do the job."
(c)2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer