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Janelle Simpson had always wanted to be an officer since she was a kid.
“My mother got me interested in law enforcement at a really young age,” she said. “Then in high school, I filled out the application my senior year to be an officer.”
Now, she has shattered another glass ceiling in her career as the first woman and first Latina to hold the rank of deputy chief of police in Camden’s history. Simpson said she is proud that she has gone through the ranks and is excited about her promotion from captain. She’s also the first Latina to hold that rank in city history, as well.
“It feels like it’s my duty to represent all the females and the Latin females in the community and in the city where I was born and raised in a positive way,” she said.
A ceremonial swearing-in will take place Friday afternoon. Her promotion makes the Camden County Police Department more diverse than other departments in the state. Twenty percent of the command staff are women. Recent data shows that one in 10 police officers in New Jersey are women.
In her early days, she trained the future first Latino police chief in city history.
“My [field training officer] was sick that week, and she drew the short straw to have this new rookie with her,” said Chief Gabe Rodriguez, who joined the department nine months after Simpson. He described his new deputy as “the toughest FTO that I rode with the entire time,” yelling at him for not using a signal while turning.
“I remember the exact location,” he said, “it was 21st and Federal.”
“That is a pet peeve of mine,” Simpson said laughing.
Rodriguez said that he learned a lot from Simpson during that time.
“She was very knowledgeable for the short period of time that she had on the job,” he said. “For FTOs, you had to have five, ten years on to train. But … they trusted in her enough to assign her new officers because of the knowledge and how committed she was to the job.”
Rodriguez said one of the first moves he made as chief was to make Simpson captain over internal affairs, recalling her thoroughness in training him. It’s among the many roles she served in over her two decades of law enforcement in the City of Camden, most recently commander of the general investigation unit.
She began her career working patrol in East Camden for the former city police department. She was then promoted to detective in the special victims unit working on missing persons cases.
When the city police department reformed as the Camden County Police Department in 2013, Simpson was promoted to sergeant of the unit, supervising the missing persons and juvenile bureau. In 2017, she became the second Latina ever to be promoted to lieutenant.
Off duty, she participates in a dragon boat team, most of whom are in law enforcement too. She also runs, something that has stuck with her from when she was training to be an officer.
“I really wasn’t a runner until I became a police officer in the academy.” she said, adding that her training class ran every day and she stuck with it. “It’s a stress reliever to me, you know, a long day, a lot of stress. Running will just bring me back and clear my mind.”
Her three children also “keep her busy,” ages 6, 12 and 15. She raises them with her husband, who works in the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office.
“I always try to say, ‘You should be a police officer. You should try it out. It’s really a great job. We need more people in this profession,” she said.