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N.J. city lays off one-sixth of its workers

Firefighters in Camden waited to turn in their gear yesterday after being laid off amid a city budget crisis. Firefighters in Camden waited to turn in their gear yesterday after being laid off amid a city budget crisis. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)
Associated Press / January 19, 2011

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CAMDEN, N.J. — In a solemn display, laid-off firefighters and police officers lined up yesterday to turn in their helmets and badges, following deep budget cuts expected to further erode the quality of life in one of the nation’s most impoverished and crime-ridden cities.

Nearly half the Camden police force, including civilians, and about one-third of its firefighters lost their jobs as city leaders sought to balance the budget amid falling tax revenue and diminishing aid from the state.

In all, the city laid off 335 workers, about one-sixth of its employees.

On the sidewalk outside City Hall, 82 police officers lined up their work boots to show how many officers would be taken off the Camden streets, though many neighborhoods have rampant drug dealing and violence.

As officers staged the display, a woman riding by in a car yelled that she was worried about the safety of her granddaughter, who catches a school bus before dawn, and her grandson, who doesn’t get out of basketball practice until after dark.

Mayor Dana Redd said many of the layoffs could have been averted if unions had acknowledged the dire economic situation and agreed to concessions.

The mayor said most of the laid-off public safety employees could still be brought back if concessions are made.

Members of the main police union were scheduled to vote on givebacks today.

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