When Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz and members of the police department recently hosted a virtual meeting with residents, they could point to initiatives already addressing many concerns on the street. There were 19 new officers — four full time and 15 Class II dedicated to the Tourism District. More patrols and electronic monitoring of targeted areas. And continuous community outreach, now including meetings like this.
These are just a small part of the shining legacy of Atlantic City’s Police Chief Henry M. White Jr., who will retire Oct. 1 after 35 years with the department. Under him, public safety has improved across a broad range of perspectives, including police behavior, crime reduction and public confidence in police.
Atlantic City police unfortunately had a long history of not following their own policies and procedures, resulting in costly lawsuits by mishandled suspects and citizens. A decade ago it faced 13 federal lawsuits alleging violence by department members, nearly triple the number of any other New Jersey city.
Chief White took over the department in late 2013 and implemented many reforms, including a new Division of Professional Standards, widespread use of police cameras, an outside Internal Affairs hearing officer, and better oversight of off-duty security work by officers.
The share of arrests in which force was used fell 29%. Complaints of excessive use of force plunged a remarkable 83%. A year later, violent crime and property crimes had declined by about a third.
The state takeover of Atlantic City to stabilize its finances dealt White a challenging hand, reducing the police force as part of needed cost cutting. He played it well, reducing crime and improving community relations with fewer resources.
White — born and raised in Atlantic City — emphasized engaging and communicating with the community from the start. He urged the creation of a police advisory board and established a Neighborhood Coordination Unit. He increased the foot patrols where he started his police work, before moving up in the department to detective, sergeant, captain and then deputy chief.
His stature and credibility backed up his calm and firm response to rioting and looting after the May 31 protest of the death of George Floyd and racial inequities. White’s officers arrested 17 that night as 57 stores suffered millions in damages, and he created a department task force to conduct an exhaustive investigation. It resulted in charges against 95 people.
Under White, the Atlantic City Police Department steadfastly supported peaceful protest and free expression — without diminishing its enforcement of the law.
Atlantic City’s revival is steadily proceeding, with much progress and a lot left to do. Add another major need to the list now — appointing a new chief who can keep city police impressively moving forward.
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