We Want Guardians, Not Warriors: The Transformation of the Camden Police Department

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Policing, Public Safety, Transformation, Innovation, Organizational Design, Leading Change, Human Capital, Culture Change, Change Management, Community Trust, Community Policing, Information Technology, Labor Unions, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Sustaining Change

Learning Objective

This case study explores the leadership challenges transforming the culture and operating model of an organization, building trust, managing the political environment, redesigning governance structures, systems, and processes, leveraging technology, harnessing data and analytics, and developing new metrics for success.


In 2008, when Scott Thomson became the Chief of the Camden Police Department, he faced an extraordinarily challenging situation. To begin with, he was taking over a police department that was tasked with ensuring safety in a municipality that was consistently rated one of the most dangerous cities in the country. Complicating matters further, he was leading an organization beleaguered by corruption, a lethargic culture, and extremely tense relations with the community (especially people of color). And as if that was not enough, Thomson, the youngest chief in the department’s history, was the department’s sixth leader in the past five years.

“We Want Guardians, Not Warriors: The Transformation of the Camden Police Department” tells the story of how Thomson completely reshaped policing in Camden, New Jersey. After initially providing the backstory of how New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram turned to Thomson to lead the organization, the case traces how Thomson stood up to recalcitrant union leadership, strengthened ties and built trust with the community, and effected a culture change within the rank-and-file. It then explores another transcendent moment: how in 2011, after the department lost 46 percent of its personnel in a single day amid budget cuts, Thomson stood up an entirely new organization, the Camden County Police Department. Within this new setup, the chief made a point to recruit a more inclusive force, continued to implement cultural change and prize community engagement, and leveraged innovative technology to become more efficient.

The end result was that, in 2019, when Thomson retired as chief, the Camden County Police Department was seen as one of the most innovative and community-oriented policing organizations in the country. Under Thomson’s leadership, crime had dropped significantly, the police department’s relationship with the community had dramatically improved, and the organization had even received a visit from President Barack Obama in 2015 to highlight its successes.

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