LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Local police departments awarded for community policing

By Michael Hill
Correspondent

Camden is on course for a big drop in its murder rate and other crimes are on the decline, too. Camden County Police credit community policing.

“We create positive engagement with our residents whether it be ‘Movie with the Metro,’ whether it be pop up barbecues,” said Captain Gabriel Camacho of the Camden County Police Department.

“When we transition, like my friend Anthony said, from being a warrior to a guardian and started to be more of a community builder than a crime fighter, we’re starting to see sustainable reduction in criminal activity, in particular criminal activity,” said Chief Scott Thomson from the Camden County Police Department.

The Camden force is among more than two dozen departments, officers and prosecutors in New Jersey receiving the state attorney general’s Community Policing Awards for building trust and increasing transparency.

“We all need to work hard to spread the word, and that’s really why we’re here today. To take the vision that you all have had, the leadership that you all have shown and use a trumpet to broadcast it as far and wide around New Jersey as we can,” said Attorney General Chris Porrino.

Among the community policing award recipients, Newark for its citizen/clergy patrol.

“I think it’s important. I think when people see a safe base, a person and a police officer, it softens the feelings towards the officer,” said Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose.

Summit Police using for “Next Door” – the private social network for neighborhoods — and for YouTube videos.

“Safety awareness videos. So we actually have a Summit Street Smarts safety series that we’re able to partner with our high school film class,” said one officer.

Evesham Police say they offer as much outreach as they can.

“We have coffee with a cop, pizza with the police, we’ve done pancakes with the police events, cool off with a cop. Like I said, you can name it whatever you want but they all have the same purpose: promote transparency, build bridges, break down those barriers,” said Lt. Ronald Ritter from the Evesham Police Department.

And Perth Amboy Police say they’re not blind to how police lately are seen as the bad guys and there’s never been a greater need for community policing.

Chief Roman McKeon of the Perth Amboy Police Department said, “We want to show our community that we are no better than they are. We’re all the same. We’re all here working for the betterment of our community and our families, and that they can trust us.”

The ACLU’s Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom advocates to hold police departments accountable.

“These are best practices. But again, there’s this perception of well we get a bad reputation because one person does something bad and that’s true, but that’s another reason why in addition to all these great community initiatives, police departments also need to work to ferret out problem officers and problem incidents,” Shalom said.

The awards seem to demonstrate a recognition of how much police departments realize they’ve had to change over the years to get the results they really want.

“I think we’ve seen a real culture change in the last 15 to 20 years and I think the reason we’ve seen that is because it works,” said Elis Honig, director of criminal justice at the NJ Attorney General’s Office.

The AG is offering $100,000 in grants for community policing initiatives, while recognizing making progress in reducing crime and building trust and confidence are priceless.