Palmyra’s trailblazing police chief hits the ground running

Meghan Campbell’s role is a first for Burlington County. The county native and Cinnaminson resident replaced Scott Pearlmen this month.

Meghan Campbell, currently in her 20th year with the Palmyra Police Department, worked as a patrol officer and climbed the ladder to sergeant and then lieutenant within her first dozen years on the force. She was sworn in as the department’s first female Chief of Police on July 1. (Photo provided)

Last month, with a little more than a week to go in his tenure as Palmyra’s chief of police, Scott Pearlmen penned a letter to the community to thank residents for their cooperation during his decade-long stay and relay another message, too: He was “proud” to be leaving the town and its department “in good hands.”

On July 1, Pearlman officially passed the baton to Meghan Campbell. She put those hands to work immediately.

“I cleaned house,” Campbell said with a laugh of her first say as chief. “I rearranged furniture, with the help of a lot of people, got rid of some stuff and just kind of made it my own. 

“I wanted a fresh start.”

More than two weeks in, Campbell is more than comfortable in her new digs as she fills both the new role as chief and county trailblazer. Campbell, a Cinnaminson resident and 1995 graduate of Burlington Township High School, is celebrating her 20th year with the Palmyra Police Department by earning the promotion as chief. In the process, Campbell is the first female municipal law enforcement chief for any town within Burlington County history. 

“Paving the way,” Campbell said of her place in history. “It’s quite an honor. I’m overwhelmed.”

But Campbell is also plenty prepared, too. She began her career more than 20 years ago in the Burlington County prosecutor’s office before moving to the Burlington County Sheriff’s Department. She joined Palmyra’s Police Department in 2001. Campbell worked as a patrol officer and climbed the ladder to sergeant and then lieutenant within her first dozen years on the force. 

“I feel very fortunate and honored to have made it this far in my career,” the 42-year-old Campbell said of her ascension to police chief. 

Campbell has actually been working her way up to her current position since she was a kid. 

Her father, Lanny Roberson, served for 29 years with the New Jersey State Police, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel (second in command with the state police).

“For both my brother and I, he was a major influence,” said Campbell, whose sibling, Brandon Roberson, was a sergeant in the Burlington Township Police Department before retiring this spring.

“(My dad) worked for the state police, so he was all over the state. Both of us wanted to kind of remain local, on a more personal level. So we kind of made our own mark, so to speak.”

Just as Lanny Roberson served as a role model for his kids, Campbell is doing the same not only for her own children, but also for girls and women everywhere in Palmyra and beyond. As the first female chief in the state’s largest county, Campbell is showing little girls that they, too, can have the same dreams, aspirations and career goals as boys in pursuing a law enforcement career.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “I have a daughter, she’s 9 years old, and I tell her that all the time, she can absolutely do anything that she wants to do, that her mom is pretty much living proof.”

As the mother of three (9-year-old twins Benjamin and Grace and  8-year-old Brien) and the wife of another law enforcement officer (Thomas Campbell works for the Evesham Police Department), Campbell will be busy this summer as she continues to transition into her new role during a trying time, with both the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement keeping first responders on call this spring and summer.

“At this point, we’re going to try to remain afloat here through the COVID period, with the restrictions we have, and as we move along in the process, we hope to still connect with our community and our young kids and our high school kids, and try to make that bond a little stronger,” Campbell said. “Because none of us have been out and about and seeing the faces that we want to see, so it’s about rebuilding that again, too, for us. We’re a very small community so we’re very close with our community. 

“We’re facing (the pandemic) on a day-by-day basis, still maintaining our health by wearing our masks and keeping our areas clean with defoggers, keeping our social distance so to speak when we go on calls and here in the station,” Campbell added. “But we’re also trying to, as we did on June 7, with the peaceful (Black Lives Matter) rally — and I couldn’t praise them more for the time they put into it and how it turned out — we’re taking it on a day-by-day basis and trying to listen to everybody.

“The voices that are being spoken need to be heard. So we’re trying to keep an open, peaceful mindset with everything.”

Campbell was officially sworn in as police chief on July 1. She will be publicly sworn in at Palmyra’s upcoming council meeting, on July 20 at 6:30 p.m.