Promotions, raises mark launch of new Camden police force

Deputy Police Chief Joseph L. Williams , joined by Chief Scott Thomson, was promoted from sergeant. He calledit "an exciting, historic day." TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Deputy Police Chief Joseph L. Williams , joined by Chief Scott Thomson, was promoted from sergeant. He calledit "an exciting, historic day." TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 22, 2013

The dignitaries had said their pieces by the time Joseph L. Williams, a new deputy chief in the Camden County Police Department, stepped to the lectern this month during a news conference showcasing hires on the new force.

Williams, who was a sergeant with the city police, joined the county department that is to replace the city force by April 30.

"This is an exciting, historic day for me, being one of the first employees starting up this new county metro division," the 20-year veteran said.

As the county force takes shape and its officers begin to hit the streets of Camden, there are new faces in uniform from suburban towns - and old ones like Williams, and current city Police Chief Scott Thomson, who will remain in charge.

Personnel details obtained by The Inquirer from the county indicate that a substantial portion of the new force will be familiar to Camden residents: Nearly 100 of the first 260 hires of the new county force are former veterans of the city Police Department.

The records also provide the first glimpse of what a one-year state civil-service waiver has enabled the county to do:

Several supervisory personnel have been quickly bumped up in rank, along with their salaries. Williams, hired as a lieutenant, skipped over the rank of captain to become deputy chief - a move questioned by the city superior officers' union but defended by the consultant who has helped organize the new force.

Williams is among former city officers who were demoted and whose incomes were cut two years ago by the violence-torn but cash-strapped city as it tried to trim costs.

He is among nearly a dozen who will see increases from their most recent salaries - as much as $20,000 for some, and more than $40,000 in Williams' case, to $145,000.

Thomson will get a nearly $7,000 raise, to $160,000.

"Salaries needed to be competitive and commensurate with other like departments in order to attract talented law enforcement officers to this department," county spokesman Dan Keashen said.

The new force will also have some familiar faces behind the scenes.

Camden school board member Felicia Reyes-Morton has been hired as a personnel assistant at a salary of $53,129. James F. Bruno, a retired investigator with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, will assume a prominent civilian managerial role at nearly $75,000.

The county is to swear in another batch of officers Monday.

What remains to be seen is the force's impact on crime.

While it's early to gauge the effects of about two dozen new hires who hit the streets in Whitman Park this month, residents say they see a stronger police presence, though some have reservations.

"I'm glad they're here. We used to have dope boys that were right there," Alicia Mitchell said, pointing beyond an ice cream truck near her home on Princess Avenue. "Before, we were afraid to even let our kids outside."

On nearby Haddon Avenue, three officers walked the beat on Friday. At Princess and Wildwood Avenues, a drug hot spot, a mobile command unit sat.

Dean Roberts, 52, also a Whitman Park resident who was a research technician at Campbell Soup, said he welcomed the increased police presence. But it will take some getting used to, he added.

"Sometimes you look and it's so many of them at one time, it's overwhelming," he said. "Sometimes it seems like martial law."

The county Police Department became official Jan. 17, when the Camden County Board of Freeholders voted to establish it. Officials have set an April 30 deadline for dismantling the present city force.

As yet undetermined is how much the city will have to pay for the services of the county force's so-called metro division, as well as what kind of long-term commitment the state will make so that Camden can afford to pay.

Shared services and financial agreements among the city, county, and state are still being negotiated, Keashen said late last week.

For this fiscal year, ending in June, the state provided $102 million in aid to Camden, nearly 70 percent of its budget.

County and city leaders argued for the new force in part because it would enable them to shed generous police contracts and eliminate extras, such as shift differentials, saving about $20 million. The savings, they have said, will let them raise the larger 400-member county force.

Several supervising officers have received promotions as the new force begins operation.

For example, Gabriel Camacho, who was demoted from sergeant to detective during the 2011 layoffs, has been promoted to lieutenant. His base salary jumps from $84,201 to $104,070, records show.

David Suarez and Deiter Tunstall, who were sergeants, skipped over lieutenant and became captain, the rank below deputy chief. The salary for each is listed as $118,232, at least a $15,000 raise for each.

Under the waiver from a variety of civil-service guidelines, the county is exempt from the requirement that officers pass promotional tests.

But candidates still must satisfy the minimum job requirements for promotions. Thus, a candidate for lieutenant must have two years of supervisory experience as a sergeant.

Joe Cordero, the consultant who designed the new force, said all those who have been promoted have more than satisfied the minimum requirements.

"The people whom we put into supervisory roles and leadership positions are the ones that we believe, based upon the evidence before us, are the most suited to lead this organization," he said.

Christopher Gray, labor lawyer for the city superior officers' union, said that under civil-service rules, officers may be promoted only in order of rank and must serve at least a year in that rank to be able to take a promotional test.

He questioned whether the county could promote Williams to deputy chief, skipping several ranks, even under the waiver.

Williams could not be reached, and Keashen declined to comment on specific promotions.

A spokesman for the Civil Service Commission declined to clarify the promotions process under the exemption.

John Williamson, president of Camden's Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the current rank-and-file officers, said the waiver paves the way for abuse.

"On the surface, it appears that a lot of people have been rewarded for their loyalty and support of the plan," he said. "That's why civil service is important, because it mitigates political favors and cronyism."

Williamson also questioned how the county can afford raises when officials have said the city Police Department's costs were unsustainable.

Cordero said the new salaries don't have any hidden extras.

"What you see is what you get," he said.

The current salaries, including overtime, and new vehicles and other equipment are temporarily being paid for from more than $7 million the state has provided in start-up funding.


Contact Claudia Vargas

at 856-779-3917, cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.philly.com/camden_flow.

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