Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman At The Camden County College Police Academy Graduation For The 63rd Basic Police Recruit Class
CAMDEN COUNTY COLLEGE, BLACKWOOD, N.J.
Thank you, President Yannuzzi, for that introduction. It is always a privilege for me to speak with uniformed officers and it is a special thrill to be the keynote speaker on such a momentous occasion. The presence of so many public figures shows just how significant today is. And while I don’t want to run the risk of picking and choosing among elected and non-elected officials, I do want to single out two people. First, I want to thank Warren Faulk for his service as Camden County Prosecutor and for his friendship and for being such a great partner. I want to thank Chief Scott Thompson of the Camden County Police Department, with whom I have worked so closely over the last several years for his vision, his resolution, his flexibility and his leadership.
One morning, a few months from now, a woman will walk out of her door in the Parkside neighborhood in Camden with her new baby. And she will see one of you – maybe Officer Diana Deren or Ken Egan or Keyana Smith – walking up the block. And she will feel safer.
On a Tuesday afternoon in October, a retired couple will be taking a walk on the trail as the leaves change in Wood Lake Park in Edgewater Park. And maybe they will see Officer Kyle McPhillips or Charles Ryder pull into the parking lot. And they will feel safer.
Early one evening, a young family will get into their car after eating at one of the restaurants on Blackwood – Clementon Road as Matt Gray, or Joe Thomson, pulls in on a coffee break. And the kids will wave and the officers will wave back. And the parents will smile and feel safer.
And on a Sunday afternoon, a couple of teenagers will be riding their bikes to play ball at Legion Field in Fieldsboro. Maybe they’ll see Officer James or Officer Palma patrolling on Front Street or Washington Street. And they will be safer. And maybe one of those kids might think that he or she wants to be just like them.
Today we celebrate all of that. Today we recognize that all of you have chosen a career that will give you the chance to change people’s lives. Today we celebrate that all of you will, simply by doing your jobs, make our streets and our neighborhoods safer in 13 different communities – from Ocean City to Camden, and from Washington Township to Gloucester City. And today we congratulate you for having made it through a rigorous, demanding, state of the art academy that has prepared you to handle those responsibilities in the best possible way.
You each have come to this career, and to this day, for different reasons and by different paths. For some of you, this work is literally in your blood and you are part of a family tradition and the next in a line of dedicated officers. Recruits Bagby, Camacho and Melendez are following in the footsteps of parents who have served these same communities.
Others of you are like those teenagers on their bikes, who have always wanted to be cops and have imagined wearing these uniforms since you played at arresting your friends on the playground. Four of you have already served your country in the armed forces, and this work is a natural extension of that extraordinary service. Several of you have already finished college, and three of you have advanced degrees.
And all of you, I suspect, have some deep, personal reasons to make a difference.
Chief Thomson shared Recruit CaBria Davis’ story with me, and that alone would be enough to make me proud to be here today. In 1994, her father was tragically murdered at the Crestbury Apartments in Camden. She and her brother were raised on the 500 block of Mechanic Street by their mother who struggled to make ends meet while on government assistance. There are a lot of ways Recruit Davis could have turned as a result of those experiences. But instead, she worked two jobs to assist her mother and brother -- all while paying her own way to attend Camden County College and Rowan University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. It is a testament to her resolve and an inspiration to all of us that she is motivated to use that experience and that education as a police officer in the City of Camden.
As the United States Attorney, I have a lot of opportunities to speak about the importance of public service and its rewards and obligations. For the better part of my 30-year career, I have been proud to tell people that I work for the Department of Justice, and it never gets old to say I represent the United States. As you all know, there is no greater honor than the opportunity to serve our country and our communities.
But while what I do is satisfying, rewarding and intellectually challenging, it’s not dangerous, and it’s not scary. I don’t get up in the morning and put on a uniform, and a badge, and strap on a gun. I’ve never put my body through the grueling training required to do the job and save lives; and I’ve never been involved in a high-speed chase with a dangerous felon. I've never had to run into a burning building to save someone else. And I've never pulled over and approached a car with tinted windows on a deserted street, not knowing who was behind the glass or what they were holding.
To do that; to be willing to do that; to ask to do that – that requires a special kind of dedication and commitment. It means making a choice – and sometimes it’s just an instinct – to put the safety and welfare of others ahead of your own.
It is no coincidence that your badges are pinned over your hearts.
That kind of public service demands the sacrifice of time, compensation, and the companionship of family and friends. It’s lost weekends, and all-nighters, and missed school concerts and baseball games.
That sacrifice is shared – if not exceeded – by your family and friends. If you love someone who is on the job – if your husband or your wife is on patrol; if your mom or your dad is on a stakeout; if your sister or your brother or your friend is making an undercover buy – you bear burdens and worries and sleepless nights that others just can’t fully understand or appreciate. To the families of these brave men and women, I want to thank you in advance for carrying that weight.
Today we also celebrate something else. A little more than a year ago, the Camden County Police Department was launched. After all of the raised expectations this change created, it is your class – finally bringing the ranks to nearly full staffing – that will be able to deliver.
As budgets have tightened, we have all done “more with less.” All over New Jersey, we and our law enforcement partners have thwarted terrorist plots, stopped corrupt public officials, crippled cyber thieves who steal our most valuable information, held corporations accountable and locked up white collar criminals who have defrauded victims and markets and illegally used our healthcare system as a cash cow. We’ve taken guns and drugs off the streets, stopped producers and traders of images of sexually abused children and protected our delicate environment. Every day, I see my colleagues throughout the law enforcement community do their jobs with professionalism, dedication and pride.
But at a certain point, we can only do less with less. Even the most resilient are not immune from the constant stress of budget cuts, shutdown, furloughs or lay-offs. In today’s economy, this has been the reality for all of us in law enforcement. But the police in Camden – and the people of its neighborhoods and communities – have felt a particularly harsh bite. I and your other partners in this work are thrilled to see the cavalry has arrived.
Not that the force hasn’t been doing amazing work. Even with significantly challenged staffing levels, the men and women of this department have worked to reduce violent crime by 10 percent, homicides by 20 percent, and shootings by 25 percent. And crime is down in every category.
So imagine how much more we can do now. Those of you graduating today will boost the new County force to almost 390, full stop. That will allow deployments to further drive down the crime rate and it will give the department the flexibility to really employ a model of community policing. More officers will walk beats, patrol neighborhoods on bikes, and make real connections with the people they protect and serve. The fact that the force is so diverse, and reflects more and more who lives in those neighborhoods, will help to establish and maintain that trust. And it will be a huge advantage that you can communicate in 11 different languages.
We in the federal government have been and remain dedicated to supporting you in so many ways. For example, ten of you in this class were funded by a grant from the Justice Department’s Community Orienting Policing Services – or COPS – Hiring Program of 2013, which awarded Camden more than $2.2 million to bring them on board.
Last September, with the support of my office, the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded Camden a roughly $1.4 million Community-Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Program grant to implement a public health based violence-reduction program called Cure4Camden, which will use Outreach Workers and Violence Interrupters to target those who are threatening Camden’s four most challenged neighborhoods: Cooper-Lanning, Liberty Park, Whitman Park and Centerville.
OJJDP, as that office is known, also awarded Camden another quarter of a million dollars in a National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention grant in September to support the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Violence Prevention – a multi-agency partnership that began meeting in the fall of 2012 to identify, plan and direct a number of strategic initiatives in the areas of prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry. I’m proud that my office is playing a major role in that initiative as well.
And just over two years ago, the federal Department of Education awarded Camden a half-million dollars Promise Neighborhood grant to ramp up services to children and families in the Cooper Plaza and Lanning Square neighborhoods; and the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Camden a $300,000 Choice Neighborhood grant to focus on addressing housing, transportation, education, employment, healthy living and health care for public housing residents in the Liberty Park, Whitman Park and Centerville neighborhoods.
As I know from my conversations with the mayor and the Chief, these resources are incredibly important, particularly in these lean days. But the federal commitment can’t be and isn’t just about big checks. It must also be about big ideas and new strategies.
We always preach that we work best and are most effective when we work together at all levels of law enforcement. But in my thirty years of experience, I have never seen a better model than how we’re doing that in Camden in what we call the Camden County Crime Collaboration, or “C-4.” Every federal, state, county, and local law enforcement agency responsible for combating drug trafficking, gang activity and violent crime in Camden has assigned personnel – including agents, cops, intelligence analysts and prosecutors – to work out of a single location in the city. Every morning at 10 o’clock, in a meeting that has become known as the “huddle,” senior supervisors of those agencies share real-time information about homicides, shootings, and – most important – the details of ongoing criminal investigations. The kind of information that is exchanged, and the trust among those agencies, is extraordinary, and this kind of cooperation and collaboration is truly unprecedented. Not only is there nothing else like it in New Jersey, but I don’t know of a similar program anywhere else in the country. It is smart, creative law enforcement, and I hope that many of you in this class will have the opportunity to work directly with this impressive group.
But whatever your assignment, no matter what community you serve, the moment is now yours. Regardless of all of our cooperation, and all of our partnerships, and all we do as a team – in those moments of crisis in those neighborhoods and on those streets, it will be you who is there. When there is a call of shots fired; when the blaze is still burning; when the scene is not yet secure; when the ambulance hasn’t yet arrived; when the lost child has not yet been found – it will be you who is there. You are literally the first to respond.
Today we say, “You are ready.” You have trained hard and well, and will continue to hone your instincts through years of experience on the job.
It isn’t just about the fact that you keep people safe, it is also about how you keep people safe – always mindful of the civil liberties you are sworn to defend and the trust of the public you protect.
For the people of your communities, you – each of you – is an ambassador. For many, their interaction with the police is the closest contact they will ever have with their government. It is on you to represent all of us in a professional and positive light. You will need to be that much better; your skin will need to be that much thicker; and you will need to be that much more resistant to the temptation of corruption and the abuse of your power. Remember that everything you do – the way you handle every encounter – reflects not just on you but on all of your brother and sister officers.
Throughout my career, I have been lucky and privileged to work with law enforcement officers at every level of government: local, county state and federal. At every turn, I have been moved by the willingness of the New Jersey law enforcement community – the one I know best – to stand against those who won’t or can’t abide by the laws of our society, particularly those who commit crimes of violence. You have made it your life’s work – your chosen career – to help keep our communities safe.
The work will be hard, but it will be hugely satisfying.
In the communities you will serve, your patrol will be a welcome sight. In the communities you will serve, you will build relationships that will yield rewards for years. In the communities you will serve, criminals will be more afraid to carry guns and the law abiding people who work, live, play, and go to school there will carry themselves with less fear – and more pride.