Over the last 25 years, Gabriel Camacho has been involved in policing in Camden, New Jersey before coming to Harrisonburg. Earlier this month, Camacho officially stepped into the role of Harrisonburg’s interim police chief Sept. 12.
Since he started working for the community in December 2019, Camacho said he’s looking forward to his role of serving the community in the years to come.
In an interview with Breeze TV, Camacho said working in Harrisonburg over the past year under police chief Eric English was different from working in Camden because it's a smaller city with different issues, but he feels prepared to serve the city.
“Once I started to look at the city and how remarkable and amazing it is, I just fell in love with it,” Camacho said.
Camacho said that he plans to continue the practices of the police force here and to focus on better technology, accountability and training in the Harrisonburg police force. He said that Integrated Communications, Assessment and Tactics, or ICAT training will be implemented that focuses on de-escalation tactics.
“I wouldn't say there is going to be some huge change that occurs, but we are always going to strive to be better,” Camacho said.
In a press release by the City of Harrisonburg, City Manager Eric Campbell said that Camacho will bring a mix of “experience and professionalism” to the community and will “remain motivated and dedicated to making Harrisonburg a better place for all who call it home.”
Already, Camacho has proved to be a leader in taking steps to further community engagement. Camacho said that he especially wanted to provide resources to the Hispanic community, and has helped create a Facebook page for them so they get the information they need.
“I look at policing as a marathon, not a race,” Camacho said, “We should be at all meetings and be active participants in the community. Policing is to have that constant pulse with the community. You can’t have it from behind a desk, you have to constantly be out there with the community.”
On another hand, some Harrisonburg residents appear skeptical as to what Camacho may delegate his time to. Monica Robinson, president of the NAACP of Harrisonburg, said that she wished the interview focused more on bigger issues that were happening in the city like homelessness and mental health.
“I was shocked that there was really no comment about the unrest that’s happening here,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of unrest at the rallies here when compared to rallies nationwide. The level of unrest in a small town [like Harrisonburg] is something that draws a red flag.”
Robinson also mentioned homelessness and the mental health crisis Harrisonburg is facing, and said that the relations between the homeless and the police often “border on harassment.” She wants to make sure that there’s a place for the homeless to be present at community engagement meetings.
“I don’t just mean an agency for [the homeless] either,” Robinson said. “That’s the same thing with Black history from white eyes. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be homeless, so I need someone from that community to get a clearer perspective on what they need. Just because you don’t see homelessness with your own eyes doesn’t mean you can be ignorant of its existence.”
Taking community issues into consideration, Robinson said that there should be more committee boards within each district and police members assigned to handle each issue. She said she wants Camacho to be involved in improving conditions for all people in the city.
“We have to do a better job with community, and we have to do a better job with accountability because by the time the true message goes from the smaller committees to where they need to be, it’s often too late,” Robinson said. “There needs to be a conversation occurring that says ‘Let’s move [toward] this and decide what needs to be happening and who needs to be at the table.’”
Contact Eleanor Weber at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.