A New Breed of Cop: Keeping Kids on the Straight and Narrow
BY MICHAEL TASHJI
Camacho and his son Matteo at Bloomfield Middle School
When Marvid Camacho was a student at Bloomfield Middle School, he was a bit of a troublemaker. Today, he walks the same hallways wearing a police uniform as the school resource officer.
Some of Camacho’s former teachers are now his coworkers, and it’s his son Matteo who attends the school as a 7th grader.
Whenever he passes his son in the hall, he gives him a small nod, but keeps moving.
“I don’t want him to lean on me,” said Camacho, who has worked there for the past four years. “I want him to figure things out on his own.”
Camacho is a new breed of cop. His role, as he sees it, is to prevent crimes, not just respond to them afterwords. He does this by keeping the kids in his charge close, gaining their trust and giving them counsel, so they stay on the straight and narrow.
“I’m not a big fan of putting my hands on people,” he said. “You can resolve issues by speaking.”
Officers Camacho and Romano enter the Bloomfield Police station
Camacho places his order at a coffee shop in Bloomfield
Camacho, Romano and Charles at the Old Canal Inn
He and his fellow officers, Detectives Paul Charles and James Romano, work with juveniles in town. Policing kids today is different—the ‘tough on crime’ days are over. Public scrutiny of police is at an all-time high, five years after the unrest in Ferguson. And while they’ve adapted to these changes, they’ve also banded even closer together to support each other.
Bloomfield is a small town—a little over 5 square miles—and just 19 miles from New York City. The mostly middle-class town’s demographics are similar to the nation’s: 60% White, 18% Black, 8% Asian, 10% other races and nearly 4% from two or more races. Those identified as Hispanic or Latino made up 25% of the town’s population.
Camacho, 38, became a police officer in 2013, after working in a juvenile detention center. His job is to patrol the halls and grounds and provide security for the school’s nearly 1,000 seventh- and eighth-graders. He also runs the school’s D.A.R.E. program designed to keep kids off drugs.
Camacho patrols the hallways at Bloomfield Middle School
Camacho talks to his sons Matteo and Mariano in their bedroom
A Thin Blue Line flag displayed in Camacho’s back yard
If there were ever an active shooter on campus, Camacho would be the first line of defense. He always carries a sidearm and two radios—one for the police department and one for the school.
He’s never had to contend with an active shooter at school. But still, he helps lead a lock down drill once a month.
Growing up in Bloomfield, Camacho had a safe, suburban life. His job on the police force, he said, gives him the chance to ensure the kids in his community today have that same opportunity.
Charles has spent the last six years as a juvenile detective with the Bloomfield Police Department, investigating theft, burglary, sexual assault and criminal mischief cases that involve minors.
Charles patrols the streets of Bloomfield
Charles and his friends climb the stairs at Bloomfield High School
Charles shoots a basket at Bloomfield High School
As a detective, he examines evidence—video surveillance, witness testimony and statements from victims—and then brings suspects into the station to be interviewed.
Charles has had to handle some pretty tough cases, including apprehending a pedophile in the park molesting a child. Charles has drawn his gun in the line of duty, but has never fired it. He’s learned the art—and science—of conducting an interview. He never lets on that he’s caught someone in a lie—he just revisits the same question over and over again.
“The greatest tool for solving crimes is the human conscience,” said Charles. “You’d be amazed how often people confess.”
Charles watches football in his basement
Charles reviews an ongoing case in the Bloomfield Police station
Charles, 50, lives in Hawthorne, New Jersey with his wife Kelly. The two dated in high school, and have been together ever since. Their three sons are grown and no longer live at home.
Before making detective, Charles was the school resource officer at Bloomfield High School for 11 years. He still has the key to the school. On weekends, he goes back there to play basketball with his friends—many of them cops.
He also loves to watch football. When the sports bars he frequented became too expensive, he set up one of his own in his basement. Four TVs play simultaneously, and there’s always food and plenty to drink.
Romano and Camacho often swing by. But they never talk about work. Instead they try to forget about policing for a while.
Officers Romano and Camacho at the Bloomfield Police station
Romano and his son Matthew talk with a resident of Bloomfield
Romano holds his daughter Juliana
Camacho and Romano pay their tab at the Old Canal Inn
Romano spent four years in the Air Force, and was at the air base in Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia, when terrorists attacked in 1996. He has a tattoo on his left arm to commemorate the 20 men that died that day. It says Never To Be Forgotten.
I first met Romano when he was seven years old. His family moved into a house at the end of my street. Before reporting this story, the last time I’d seen him was nine years ago—at his father’s funeral.
Romano, 44, now lives in Pompton Lakes with his wife, Vanessa, and their two kids. He joined the Bloomfield Police Department in 2006 starting as a patrolman and working a night shift for nine years.
In 2014, he became a juvenile detective, investigating crimes committed by or against kids. Having kids of his own, he said it’s tough to keep composed when he’s interviewing a suspect charged with the sexual assault of a minor.
Romano coaches the Bloomfield Bengals at Foley Field
Romano weighs in junior league football players at Foley Field
Romano leads Bloomfield’s anti-cyber-bullying efforts, aimed at protecting middle school children. In the summer, he, Camacho and others host the Junior Police Academy, a 4-week program that teaches kids discipline, physical fitness and police training. He also coaches football for the town’s junior league—along with his son Matthew, 18. As both a cop and a coach, everybody in town knows him.
Romano says the best thing about being a police officer is helping people when they’ve been victimized. Years later, they’ll come up to him and give him a hug and say thanks.
Policing today requires many skills—some hard, some soft.
“So many hats,” said Romano. “Social worker, big brother, big sister. And, really, the last resort is being a cop.”