The new Camden County Police Department is looking to strengthen its presence in the city of Camden's business districts by hiring "public safety ambassadors."County freeholders approved a contract Thursday with the security firm AlliedBarton to provide the private force.

Police Chief Scott Thomson said the ambassadors would help with community policing but be unarmed and have no arrest powers. They would wear fluorescent vests to be easily identifiable.

He said a similar program in Philadelphia has proven successful.

County officials say up to 100 ambassadors would be hired under the plan, but won't hit the streets until the state provides needed funding.

They would handle routine police chores like verifying alarms.

County spokesman Dan Keashen told the Courier-Post the use of ambassadors for such jobs would allow police to focus on neighborhoods.

The ambassadors would be in constant contact with police officers, Thomson said.

"These guys are also trained as far as assisting with information," the chief said. "They're not just there as a deterrence. They're also there to engage the business owners and the citizens."

The county police force is expected to reach its goal of about 400 sworn officers in about six months. Hit hard by budget cuts, Camden's municipal police department had about 270 officers.

"This is part of our overarching strategy to hit a tipping point where people feel safe," Thomson said.


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