Camden County Sheriff Gilbert “Whip” Wilson was amazed when he was informed that he would be the first African American president of the Sheriffs’ Association of New Jersey. Then he thought about the history of sheriffs in the Garden State and the number of Black sheriffs there are.
He said the association is a good one and looks forward to adding his ideas.
“We’re fine as we are right now, but I just want to add a bit of my flavor to it, like I did with Camden [County’s] Sheriff’s Office,” Wilson said.
Wilson was formally sworn-in as head of the organization Thursday at the Mercer Oaks Golf Course in West Windsor Township, Mercer County. It was part of the association’s installation meeting and awards luncheon.
Holding the Bible that Wilson laid his hand on was his daughter, Nichelle Wilson, and Middlesex County Sheriff Mildred Scott, the county’s first female sheriff and the first Black person to be elected sheriff in New Jersey.
After his installation, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) honored him for his historic ascension to lead the sheriff’s association, as well as his decades of public service in the military, law enforcement, and the State Assembly.
“I don’t know where you get all the images,” said Jiles Ship, president of the New Jersey chapter of NOBLE. “Neither one of those jobs are easy.”
Wilson is used to being the first. After two stints on the Camden City Council, he became the first Black person from the City of Camden to serve in the General Assembly in 2010. He would go on to be re-elected in 2011 and 2013. He left the Assembly in 2015 after being elected county sheriff.
Gloucester County Sheriff Jonathan Sammons said he couldn’t think of a better person to lead the sheriff’s association.
“He’s done so much for the community,” he said. “He’s made some really great strides as sheriff of Camden County.”
Sammons, the first Black sheriff in his county, calls Wilson a mentor; affectionately calling him “Sheriff Dad.”
“He’s such a mentor to me that he is almost like a surrogate father,” he added. “That’s the way he comes across when he’s giving you advice.”
Prior to politics, Wilson was a 26 year veteran of the old Camden Police Department and served in the U.S. Air Force during Vietnam. He was also an assistant basketball coach for Camden High School and helped Camden Creative Arts High School with their fundraising efforts.
“She would definitely been here today holding that Bible,” he said, adding that his daughter wanted to step in. “Family’s always been important to me. For her to be here, [to] take off that time from work today is a big deal to me. It shows you what we are about.”
Among the ideas Wilson has for the organization is to interact with the community more, including telling people what a sheriff does.
“A lot of folks don’t know what a sheriff does,” he said. “I didn’t until I read it before I ran for it .”
Wilson also wants to lead efforts on bail reform. He said that the reform he voted for as assemblyman isn’t working the way he envisioned.
“[The] people coming out [of jail] on bail reform should actually be in jail,” he added.