dozens of Cherry Hill police officers were wearing uniforms of a different type.
Gone were the blue shirts and neatly pressed trousers the officers normally sport. Instead they were dressed in casual matching black t-shirts as they went for a two-mile walk around the Cherry Hill Mall alongside the community leaders and residents they protect on a daily basis.
Members of the Cherry Hill Police Department gathered with township officials and residents Tuesday morning at the mall for a special Walk with the Mayor. The purpose of the walk was to encourage the community to forge a stronger relationship with the community.
This year’s walk had additional meaning this year, as it was done in solidarity with the community of Charleston, S.C. less than a week after nine people were killed inside the Emanuel African Methodist Church on June 17. Mayor Chuck Cahn thanked those in attendance for coming out and showing their support for the Charleston community.
The attendance of more than 100 people was also a show of support for the local police department. The police hold one walk every year where many of the officers come to interact with the community. Police Chief William Monaghan said the event has been a great way for the police to connect with residents.
“We have the community leaders come out and engage the police in an informal setting,” he said.
Cherry Hill Police Benevolent Association President Ed Williams said building a strong bond is a huge focus for officers, especially with some of the recent negative publicity police have received across the country. Some of the other things the police have done are donate food to the Cherry Hill Food Pantry, fund a scholarship program for Cherry Hill high school students and participate in the Cherry Hill/Voorhees Relay for Life.
“It helps to create a positive contact with the community,” Williams said.
The police department had a table set up near the start of the walk in the mall’s Grand Court. Officers remained stationed at a table with information.
To help bridge the gap between officers and residents, leaders from Cherry Hill’s many religious congregations were invited to attend the walk. Monaghan said these leaders serve as an example for the local community, and having them build a positive relationship with the police department will help encourage residents in their own communities to do the same.
Williams said officers remember many of the residents they meet at events such as Walk with the Mayor, and it makes the residents feel more comfortable if they need to interact with an officer in the future.
“They tend to recognize you from different events. They’re more inclined to talk to you,” Williams said.
“Now that they see the police officers in an informal setting, they may be more inclined to go up to them,” Monaghan said.
The police department has also put a focus on connecting with the youth of Cherry Hill. With school out for summer, a number of younger residents were at the walk, many sporting black Cherry Hill Police t-shirts.
To help continue to forge a relationship between the police and kids in the township, the police department will be holding its first Junior Police Academy during the week of July 20. Monaghan said interest in the program has been very high, with all of the spots in the academy already filled.
Monaghan said the interaction the police shared with the community at the walk served as a testament to the bond they shared. He said a strong relationship between the police and residents will make for a safer Cherry Hill.
“The community needs the police and the police need the community,” he said.