Prosecutor, looking back as he leaves, recalls 'challenging' times

Warren Faulk greets summer interns (from left): Matthew Strout, Julian Harris, Anna Trenga, and Andrew Mainardi.
Warren Faulk greets summer interns (from left): Matthew Strout, Julian Harris, Anna Trenga, and Andrew Mainardi. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 30, 2014

Warren Faulk won't forget the little blue shoe.

It belonged to Brandon Thompson, 4, who had just been shot dead in front of his mother.

On Aug. 4, 2008, Faulk - who spent most of his law career representing newspaper people - had been serving as Camden County prosecutor for all of a month.

He left his Cherry Hill dinner table for the scene of an outdoor, broad-daylight gun battle in Camden's Whitman Park section; a shoe like one his grandson wore lay on the pavement, near a pool of blood. The child had been caught in a cross fire.

"Things like that stay with you," says Faulk, 69, who stepped down Friday after six years in office. "They always stay with you."

Having run the second-busiest county prosecutor's office in New Jersey, the reserved, respected, hands-on professional uses shorthand for his more graphic major crime memories.

"The head in the freezer," Faulk says. And "Berkley Street." Those two Camden homicides - the first, by a mother who decapitated her toddler and then stabbed herself to death, and the second, a double killing that involved torture - were far from the most urgent law enforcement issues during Faulk's term.

In January 2011, state funding cuts forced the Camden Police Department to lay off nearly half of its officers. The next year saw a record 67 homicides. And the city department, in existence for 183 years, was replaced by a newly created Camden County Police Metro Division in May 2013.

But for the 18 months before then, "we were investigating every shooting in the city," Faulk recalls. "Our major crimes unit and homicide unit basically became a shooting unit."

What emerged from this "challenging" period, he continues, was a deeper respect for and a stronger partnership with police in the city.

The new relationship is exemplified by the Camden County Crime Collaboration, which he helped establish. Local, county, state, and federal law enforcement officers and agents share information and work together at a single downtown location.

"Warren has been instrumental in shaping a public safety paradigm that's regarded as a national model," Metro Police Chief Scott Thomson says in an e-mail. "It has been a true honor for me to share a foxhole with him for the past six years."

Faulk, who also uses the foxhole analogy, notes that much of the violent crime in Camden arises from an illegal drug economy that has been embedded in the city and suburbs for generations.

"Between 75 and 80 percent of the drug buyers in the city come in from the suburbs, and of those, about 60 percent are from Camden County," he says. "Some of our senior detectives now see the grandsons of those they arrested years ago in the business."

With more uniformed officers on patrol in the city, "there is going to be significant progress" against drug selling, he adds. "If you've got a cop sitting on the block, nobody's going to be buying drugs."

Inevitably, some of the illicit activity will move to the suburbs. "We're already seeing it," says Faulk, whose tenure also has been marked by an "amazing" expansion in the use of social and digital media, and technologies of all kinds.

"There are security and surveillance cameras everywhere," he notes. "It's a rare homicide where we don't have at least some film."

Suspects often have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and smartphones packed with data that can help investigators build a case. Nevertheless, "technology is only a tool," Faulk says. "You still need to do old-fashioned work. We have a great bunch of detectives, as does Camden. And they have sources."

Having represented Bulletin and, later, Inquirer reporters as a private attorney, Faulk had by necessity a different perspective on the media as a prosecutor.

"In order to preserve the fair-trial rights of defendants, there are special rules that limit the amount of information you can give out," he says.

"But after representing reporters for many years, I knew that the vast majority were trustworthy, and that if you gave them the information they absolutely were entitled to, you would get a fair story."

Faulk, who has two grown children and five grandchildren, plans to take the rest of the summer off. He will do some part-time legal work, and he and Suzanne, his wife of 45 years, enjoy traveling and plan to do more of it.

I wish the departing prosecutor a happy retirement. He's earned it.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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