A Ray of Hope

 

By Allison Steele, Feb. 24, 2015

“Growing up in East Camden, Virginia Matias wasn’t allowed to ride her new bike around the block, or walk to the corner store. Her mother was robbed at gunpoint when Matias was in kindergarten, and when Matias was 17, her uncle was shot dead as he manned the cash register in his bodega.

“Matias, now a 28-year-old Camden County police officer, doesn’t think about any of that when she walks the streets of North Camden. She thinks about the children she sees coming out to play and the business owners who know her name and face, or how she can gain the trust of the city’s most cynical residents.

“On Tuesday, she got the chance to discuss those efforts with an unusual audience: President Obama and Vice President Biden, who hosted Matias and five other officers from around the country in a meeting in the Oval Office to discuss community policing strategies.

“‘I told them how I see more kids playing in the streets, having fun,’ she said. ‘That’s how I measure change.’

 “Matias and the other rank-and-file officers were nominated by the heads of their departments. The others traveled from Utah, Washington state, California, Maryland, and Indiana. They spent an hour telling stories about their lives and cities as Obama listened closely, Matias said.

“When it came time for her to describe recent community efforts, like a reading program pairing young children with officers who read to them, the president nodded and said, ‘Good.’

“To Matias, a lifelong Camden resident, the moment was bigger than just her.

“‘Letting the president know my story, and Camden’s story, is definitely a sign Camden is going the right way,’ she said. ‘I feel like there’s a reason they chose us, that this is a stepping-stone to better things…’

“The event was organized to enable Obama and Biden to discuss how communities and law enforcement can work hand in hand, and to hear firsthand perspectives from police officers in the field.

“The agencies were selected in part based on their demonstrated experience in community policing, according to the White House.

“Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson said Matias embodies the spirit of Camden’s still-new police force, one that seeks to work hard every day to rebuild the city.

“‘It’s a proud day for the city of Camden and the progress we have made together,’ he said.

“The past year saw Camden awash in high-profile news and, often, declarations by political leaders that the city was poised to move past its longtime status as the state’s poorest and most violent…

“The city’s old police department was disbanded in favor of a county force, and Gov. Christie has touted a decrease in several categories of crime statistics over the last two years. Some community members have argued that crimes have dropped only by comparison with record highs. But many naysayers still acknowledge that the city feels quieter…”

Read the full article HERE.

It’s Officers like Virginia Matias who will be in a position to transform American policing.