CAMDEN, NJ — The Camden County Police Department has unveiled its new use of force policy, focused on respect toward life in critical moments of pursuit.

Adopted Wednesday, the revised policy, an 18-page blueprint drafted in coordination with the Policing Project at New York University School of Law, stresses that officers must make every effort to avoid unnecessary force, while still protecting themselves and the public.

“We have long trained our officers in de-escalation and force minimization, but we wanted a policy that reflected that training,” said Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson. “I want to commend the Policing Project for its fine work here in assisting our department with shaping a progressive policy that enhances both public and officer safety.”

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The policy is shaped around six core principles with regard for life, which the departments says makes it stand out among more-traditional use of force strategies. The CCPD principles are as follows:

  1. Officers may use force only to accomplish specific law enforcement objectives.
  2. Whenever feasible, officers should attempt to de-escalate confrontations with the goal of resolving encounters without force. Officers may only use force that is objectively reasonable, necessary, and as a last resort.
  3. Officers must use only the amount of force that is proportionate to the circumstances.
  4. Deadly force is only authorized as a last resort and only in strict accordance with this directive.
  5. Officers must promptly provide or request medical aid.
  6. Employees have a duty to stop and report uses of force that violate any applicable law and/or this directive.

The policy was vetted and revised by the ACLU of New Jersey. Additionally, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 218, the CCPD's collective-bargaining unit representing rank-and-file officers and commanders, had the opportunity for review. 

Rick Kunkel, president of FOP Lodge 218, said leadership felt that "it is in line with the training provided to our officers and the Attorney General guidelines."

"The policy takes a common-sense approach to situations providing guidance for officers, while still leaving options open when the situation dictates appropriate use of force," Kunkel said. "Our agency has adopted a principle engrained in the preservation of life for both the officer and the offender and this policy matches that ethos.”

Among the techniques already part of training for officers are the use of verbal communication and relying on positioning, distance, and cover to minimize uses of force. But the revised policy now reinforces these standards, ensuring the CCPD holds officers accountable if their actions are out of step, the department said.

An annual report and analysis on department use of force is required through the policy, which can be "made available to the public upon request," according to the document.

“A robust use of force policy must do more than explain when and how much force officers can use: it must make clear that officers are accountable to ensure their fellow officers are following the rules,” said Farhang Heydari, executive director of the Policing Project. “This policy takes a very strong stance on officers’ obligation to intervene in, and report, unlawful uses of force by any other officers, and to provide prompt medical attention whenever necessary or requested.”

Thomson serves as co-chair of the Policing Project Advisory Board, along with Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The non-profit organization has previously partnered with the CCPD to conduct community engagement around the department's body-worn camera policy and to run a youth-officer engagement program at Camden schools.

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