A chat with Chief Camacho and how safe Chambersburg really is

October 1 – Chambersburg Police Chief Ron Camacho stopped by First News this morning to talk with Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen about the state of affairs in Chambersburg.

The group began with talk of the new police station.

Chief Camacho said, “We just had our budget presentation and it was a lot of good news in the budget presentation. I think my guys are pretty happy. Their morale is still high. We’re getting to get ready to start moving into the temporary building and it looks like our building, all that, will be moving forward.”

Moving into the building will provide more room, but physically moving the department is a big task.

The renovations for the police department may cost the borough $8 million.

Camacho said, “I’m not looking to increase our numbers. The council squared us away. We got that new inspector position. So the inspector’s been in for a little over a month, doing fantastic work already, hit the ground running. She’s made a great addition to our team, so we’re good to go there. As far as the asking for the money for the building and all that stuff, that’s not me.”

The borough manager is actually doing the ask. Chief Camacho is part of the planning, but not the asking.

Camacho said, “Everything looks like there’s a green light. They brought in a business guy to talk about the bond, what that’s going to cost, what that looks like, the mil increase. So far, so good. They have the projected cost and we’re still waiting to see if we’re getting a grant from the state to kind of lower that. Hopefully we can.”

Chambersburg Police Department will also get body cams for their officers soon.

Camacho said, “The inspector is working on implementing the body cams for police officers. We should be purchasing them I would say within the next couple of weeks, getting them within the next month or two and hopefully implementing them before the end of the year.”

In terms of crime in Chambersburg, from 2018 to 2020, crime has gone down 12% in Part 1 major crimes and decreased 30% in Part 2 or minor crimes.

Camacho said, “If you look at our stats it is still a continual downturn of crime here and that’s something I’m always fighting, this perception of crime, this perception that Chambersburg is not a safe place. It’s an incredibly safe place. On top of that are clearance rates, what we solve. So for those Part 1 crimes, we’re solving around 60%, so that’s the major crime and we’re solving about 75% of that minor crime that occurs.”

The national average is around 30% or 40% on some of those crimes.

So where is the perception of crime coming from?

“Media,” Camacho suggested. “That’s the battle that we have to fight. We have to fight this perception that these downtown areas are dangerous and that’s part of my mandate to constantly educate the public on our numbers, on our stats, on our efficiency, on our culture of service that hey, we are on top of this stuff and we’re doing a really good job of it and just continue fighting that battle of killing that perception that there is a crime problem here.”

Jansen pointed out, “Well the national, we do know from national statistics, violent crimes have gone up in the last 2020 statistics have come out from the FBI. We’ve heard that promoted in the media. We’re bucking the trend with that, which is fantastic. Property crime did go down nationally, but violent crime went up and we are not that. We are a very safe community.”

“Right,” Camacho said. “One hundred percent and I think a lot of that goes, we talk about perception and we, and I’m including myself, need to do a better job of selling the safeness of Chambersburg. Stats do it. Other ways to go about it is just engaging and making sure the officers are engaged and just building up that confidence level that community has in our ability to keep them safe.”

What about gang activity in Chambersburg?

Camacho said, “I can tell you that nothing has come across my desk as far as gang activities concerned here. I know that there’s been some issues at the school that I think they’re dealing with. As you know the school has their own police department. We do share information, but nothing radical has come across my desk saying hey, we’ve seen this major uptick in stuff. I haven’t seen anything saying that. So that could be stuff going on there at the school and maybe that’s where that’s coming through.”

Ryan said, “Let me make sure I clarify that. We’ve got a small handful of people saying hey listen you’re seeing some graffiti that is indicative of gangs. And it’s starting to crop up a little bit more.”

Camacho said, “With that again, I tell people all the time, call the police. Let us know. One of my guys I’m very proud of we had a group of young males go around downtown, do a whole bunch of graffiti, vandalism. One of my guys took some initiative, following our no crime too small philosophy. Took some time, used our great cameras, tracked these guys, got a great picture of one of these guys and put it out on crime watch and we immediately got a tip in who it was and we were able to solve like seven or eight vandalism, criminal mischiefs and graffiti type things all put together. So number one, that’s really not happening anywhere in places this size where they’re taking that serious. That’s our philosophy. That’s our way to show the public that we care about everything, not just major crimes. We care about the small crimes. We’re able to effectively do that. We can’t work on an issue if we don’t know about an issue. That graffiti, it wasn’t told to me or it didn’t come across my desk that there were gang implications on that and we have guys that are trained on that sort of stuff. We’re pretty good at sharing information. But what I will say when that stuff comes and I love you, Pat, but call the police. Don’t got to Pat. Don’t go to Michele. Call us. You’re not bothering us. If you think that there’s some sort of gang-related graffiti on your property, call us. Let us take the report. If we take that report, that information is in our system and we can quickly correlate that and share that with some other of our shifts and maybe they’re saying hey I saw something similar. Maybe this particular officer has some good training on gang stuff and he can say, yes, this is that particular gang and then we can go about putting that into our intel system and sharing that and getting on top of something before. We can’t work on a problem if we don’t know about a problem.”

Jansen said, “I love what you said about the no crime too small thing. We’re hearing sadly in some other parts of the country where people have gotten into their heads to control what the police can do and not do in terms of sometimes smaller crimes and what we see is when the police are hand-tied and can’t do more, those crimes increase. And you’re saying you found someone who was committing maybe petty vandalism, but getting that addressed and having consequences come to that individual, that word gets out and then others who might be tempted to do such things know there will be consequences if you do and it’s such an important way to keep our community safe and to keep people feeling confident that we know where the lines are and that really helps.”

Camacho said, “I don’t know why anybody would want to do anything in the downtown area with our camera coverage. It’s foolish to me. I would love way more cameras, but I understand, there’s some privacy issues and people get a little hinky about that, but the cameras allow us to solve crime and hopefully it can work into preventing crime by just us being able to broadcast out this place has cameras all over the downtown area and many other parts of the borough and if you commit a crime, probably a good chance we’re going to see you on camera. We use those cameras effectively. We don’t have somebody there watching the cameras, so it’s kind of reactive, not proactive, but we’re very effective in solving crimes. Last year, hit and runs. So we’re an incredibly buys town. We’ve got 30 and 11, a lot of traffic here. We were solving close to 40% of our hit and runs. That’s the trucks going by or a car going by. Sometimes it’s accidental. Sometimes it’s on purpose and they don’t stop. Sometimes a big truck doesn’t see a car hits it and they take off. Other communities that’s just done and that person has to pay for that out of their own pocket. Here we’re solving about 40% of those and that again is that culture of service that we’re building here and taking care of that person. Treating the person that’s calling us, treating them like if we’re dealing with our mother or grandmother and providing that amount of service. So I’m proud of the guys that they’re doing that. I think the community needs to be very proud that this is the kind of dedication that our officers have. Unfortunately, it’s not the same all over the place and that’s my mantra. That stuff that you see in some of these other bigger cities is not going on here and let’s not talk about what’s going on in these bigger cities as compared to Chambersburg. Let’s talk about what’s going on here Chambersburg, what I can control. What I can affect. I can affect my officers. I can affect their level of discipline. I can affect their culture of service and what we’re doing here as far as trying to make this the safest place in southcentral Pennsylvania.”

Police staff has put in a grant for a virtual reality system to help train officers.

Camacho said, “One of the things that I’ve learned here was on a national level, what national police are seeing is we need to develop better critical thinking mechanisms for our officers. We need to train them how to think. Not what to think, but how to think. I think we do a pretty good job at that, but this would be something where you’re putting them under stress and scenarios and get them making those right decisions over and over and over again. It’s expensive to buy, but once you get it, you can use that for many, many years. Even put civilians in there. Put civilians in our shoes and let them see what it takes to be an officer.”

“I love that,” Jansen said.

Camacho pointed out, “Every time we’ve done that before in the past, there’s been an eye-opening experience for the civilians that have to make those critical decisions in that short amount of time.”

Ryan said, “Well and the what to think, versus the how to think. You don’t become part of the Chambersburg Police Department without getting to a level of the what to think is you make sense for our community and for our department. We’ve got the what to think over here. The training and the how to think and react, that is a defining line right there.”