"Finally, finally, we got what we wanted," said Rosa Ramirez of Camden Churches Organized for the People.
Ramirez, who grew up in the neighborhood and pointed to a nearby church where she was married decades ago, said she worked closely with Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson and legislators to strengthen existing law.
"I have a dream to see the children of this city play in the streets," Ramirez said. "I want to hear the birds singing."
More than 1,300 people were arrested on suspicion of selling drugs on Camden street corners last year, Thomson said, and often they returned to the same spot within a day.
Under the new law, authorities may electronically request a restraining order from a judge when bail is set. The suspect will be served with the order before release. The law restricts suspects from returning to within 500 feet of the spot where the incident took place.
If they do return, "it gives us the authority to put them in handcuffs," Thomson said. "It's empowering to the community."
Additionally, Thomson said, it allows police to search for drugs and weapons. Previously, Thomson said, officers who spotted suspected dealers at the location of an earlier arrest had to initiate a new investigation and find cause to rearrest.
Although authorities could request restraining orders under previous law, the request had to be made in person, and serving the orders was cumbersome and time-consuming.
Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D., Camden), who sponsored the new law, said Thursday that police had arrested 160 people for selling drugs in just one day at Fifth and Grant.
"This has to stop," Fuentes said. "This is truly destroying the quality of life for the good people of Camden."
Authorities now are creating protocol, hoping to enforce restraining orders soon.
The law "gives a great deal more of flexibility to keep these corners clean," said Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk, who stood with Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton.
Also attending the news conference were Camden Mayor Dana Redd, Council President Frank Moran, and Assemblyman Whip Wilson and Sen. Donald Norcross (both D., Camden), who also sponsored the law.
Redd said that now police may take more aggressive measures against those who make it difficult to improve Camden.
"Make no mistake about it," the mayor said, standing in front of a police mobile command unit, "we are fighting hard each and every day."
Residents on nearby curbs, steps, and sidewalks listened to the promises.
Jen Lopez, 24, shrugged when asked whether she expected to see change on the 400 block of Grant, where she cares for her 3-year-old daughter and toddler nephew.
"It don't make no difference," she said, as she pointed to an abundance of boarded-up buildings. "Look at all these abandoned houses. Fix them, or tear them down."
Contact staff writer Barbara Boyer at 856-779-3838 or [email protected].