After nearly 25 years with the Cherry Hill Police Department, township native Robert Kempf has become its newest chief. He speaks about his policing priorities, the needs of the department in 2022, and how he’d like to lead it into the future.
By Matt Skoufalos | April 26, 2022
A married father of three, Cherry Hill Police Chief Robert Kempf is a township native and Cherry Hill High School West graduate.
After high school, Kempf continued his education at Rutgers University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, a master’s degree in business administration, and Juris Doctorate in law.
Kempf’s career with the Cherry Hill Police Department (CHPD) began in 1998 as a patrolman, a rank he held for 12 years before earning his detective badge.
In two years with the investigative unit, he worked cases focusing on cybercrime, crimes against children, fraud, identity theft, and computer forensic analysis. Kempf then returned to the patrol division, where he spent a few years as a midnight shift sergeant before being promoted to detective sergeant, and then lieutenant.
After a year as watch commander, he was named CHPD training director, and headed up the department SWAT team, both of which roles he held for the past five years. At the outset of 2022, Kempf was promoted to Cherry Hill Police Chief, succeeding outgoing chief William “Bud” Monaghan.
NJ Pen spoke with the new chief about his experience within the department, his policing priorities, and the direction in which he’d like to lead Cherry Hill police under his supervision.
NJ PEN: In nearly 25 years with the CHPD, you’ve had an opportunity to see how the department functions from every position except for the rank of captain. How does that inform your perspective of what it means to be the chief of the organization?
ROBERT KEMPF: I think it gives you a holistic view of the whole entire organization; a unique perspective that you’ve been there and have done the things. As you move up the ladder and become supervisor, you get what it takes to do the job at all levels.
Patrol is the heartbeat of the organization. They’re the ones out there interacting with our residents. That has to be our primary focus. We’ve got to build those guys up.
NJ PEN: How does that happen?
KEMPF: There’s a lot of training. Cherry Hill has always been very invested in training.
We spend a lot of money, we spend a lot of time; we invest in courses, we teach courses.
Historically, we’ve only used them for building and courtroom security; especially our SLEO II’s.
I’m looking at getting them involved in some quality-of-life concerns as a force multiplier for the department, to take some of the pressures off the men and women [of the department].
NJ PEN: I can understand wanting to do that when you have to patrol an area that’s 24 square-miles. Given the vast acreage of the township, how do you determine policing priorities for the department?
KEMPF: You always try to do the best you can with what you’ve got. We have a criminal analyst, and she does intelligence-led policing so we can better deploy our resources.
We’re looking at some automatic license plate readers. We’ve had them in cars for years, but never had some fixed ones; maybe a partnership with some of our businesses in town to roll some of that out. We’re fortunate that the township sees the benefit in that.
We look at crime stats, and put out a weekly intelligence map that shows us where things are happening. A lot happens in meetings with civic associations. They gave me a list of their concerns. Are they hearing loud music in the park? Speeding in the neighborhoods? A lot of that is boots on the ground, just talking to residents who are invested in their communities.
Retail theft is a huge burden on our department and our resources. You want to attack these quality-of-life issues; that’s where you want to put your focus. We don’t have open-air drug markets, and we don’t have violent crimes. That takes it back to technology to stay ahead of that sort of thing. I think that using that intelligence-led police model pays dividends.
NJ PEN: With five state-owned roads and 22 county roads in the township, Cherry Hill also has a lot of safety concerns related to vehicle speeds and overall volume on the roadways.
How do you foresee managing those issues, and how much can enforcement do versus better roadway design?
KEMPF: Traffic safety overall—we just had a fatal motorcycle accident on Haddonfield Road—it’s a huge piece of the puzzle.
Part of my short-term goal is to make some investments in that traffic safety unit, to make it safer.
There’s certainly challenges. We talk about traffic-calming measures; things we can do from an engineering perspective that help us. The most immediate effect is the police car, enforcing Title 39 on the roadways.
I think it’s really got to be a hybrid, coming at it from both sides. We’re fortunate to have a great community development team. It’s a real challenge. We need to do a better job of education and awareness, getting the word out.
And just like everybody around us, we’ve been inundated with catalytic converter thefts. That seems to be the hot issue in the last year.
NJ PEN: What kinds of things can you do to drive education and awareness about traffic safety?
KEMPF: There are grants from the state, and we’re able to get some of those funds and go out there. It’s really enforcement, but not with a ticket. “Let me give you this flyer on how many pedestrian deaths are out this year.” It’s an education campaign, but it really looks like enforcement without the monetary fines.
Traffic safety is it. When I go to these community meetings, this is what people want to talk about. As a resident myself, I agree with them. You have to do what you can with the resources you have. That’s where the SLEOs come in.
NJ PEN: In addition to traffic safety, you’ve also spoken about wanting to focus on community policing initiatives. What will that entail?
KEMPF: I want to make some investments in the unit. Lt. Andy Spell is now the commander of the [community policing] unit.
We’re looking to get dedicated officers who are just strictly assigned to community policing.
[With events like] National Night Out, Junior Police Academy, Citizen Police Academy, we can start to rebuild that bridge with our community that COVID disrupted.
Junior Police Academy is a super passion project for me. I think this will be our sixth year, and it’s good. COVID gave us an opportunity to take a pause and see other things we could be doing better. I’m just super-excited to be able to do them again in person. It really gives us an opportunity to have a different engagement with community members. And at National Night Out, and Harvest Fest, we’re really just looking to build those relationships.
NJ PEN: Your predecessor, Bud Monaghan, did a lot of work to open up transparency into the hiring process for police officers in the township, inviting reporters to follow the entire thing, from testing to interview to hiring. What’s your view of the personnel needs of the department in 2022?
KEMPF: We’re doing a more 24/7, 365 recruiting initiative. We’re going to a decentralized [push]; every one of us has to be a recruiting officer, building up that brand message and marketing message.
Recruiting has been a challenge nationally for everyone. Numbers are off significantly; by at least half. We have still been able to capture excellent recruits, getting out to these colleges, churches, and community groups. We’re still getting very, very qualified candidates; it’s just not in the volume that we once saw. So we have to adapt the way that we recruit.
If these folks have an interest in law enforcement, we have to reach them where they are, educate them about the profession itself, and Cherry Hill specifically.
NJ PEN: How do you do that?
KEMPF: First, I sell folks on the community. Cherry Hill is a wonderful community.
We have tremendous support from our elected leaders; we get a ton of support from our community in general.
We’re not insulated from the problems in this profession that are happening nationally, but when we have these issues in other parts of the country, we get the community support.
We get the funding we need to get the equipment that we need, the training that we need. We’re fortunate, and we’re different that way from a lot of other places.
NJ PEN: Cherry Hill also has an educational requirement for its police officers. Is it still a prerequisite for hiring that job candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, or be on track to earn one within a certain window of taking the job?
KEMPF: You need to have 60 college credits. If you had military experience, or two years’ experience in a police department elsewhere in New Jersey, you have to have 30 credits.
I think having a college degree is an overall important qualification for a police officer. It makes you a little more worldly, a little more knowledgeable, and we support them to get that. If we need to move them to a different shift, we do that. We do anything we can to support them while they’re getting it.
I think education’s crucial. I’ve been a lifelong student myself. We would offer the same type of support. We have some senior folks who are still working on master’s degrees.
NJ PEN: Given the stresses of the job itself, what kinds of supports are available for police officers within the department? How do you help them to escape the pressures of the work so they can be more comfortable doing it?
KEMPF: We have an employee assistance program (EAP), and I’m looking at if there’s more that we can do with that.
Our police psychiatrist helped us put together a MAPPS program (Multi-Agency Police Peer Support) with Voorhees and Gloucester Township.
We open it up to anyone who wants to be involved with it.
Anyone can make a recommendation. “Maybe somebody should check on so-and-so.” It’s 100-percent confidential; it never comes back to me.
They have a lot of different avenues, whether it’s peer support, whether they go see the doctor. It’s a great program, and they’re having a lot of successes.
You’ve got a core group of folks who want to be involved and get a resource for our officers. We picked up two additional police chaplains, so now we have five. I’m looking for ways to get them involved in a social setting.
[Mental health] is important, and it’s finally getting the attention it deserves. You treat the officer, and that pays dividends throughout the community. I might be more comfortable talking to a chaplain; or maybe I’m not, and I go through peer support. I think the goal is a variety. Come at it with so many options that there’s no way people can avoid it.
NJ PEN: In addition to supporting officers within the broader policing community, maintaining trust with the residents you protect also involves managing the transparency obligations that come with the job in 2020.
New Jersey now has bodycam mandates, use-of-force reporting, and other mechanisms that put policing tactics on display more than ever. How do you balance those interests and support your officers while meeting the demands of the public for access to this kind of information?
KEMPF: Training nowadays is more important than ever, but it’s always been important to Cherry Hill.
I was involved in our frontline training, which was required by the state.
We were teaching implicit bias training before it was a thing discussed nationally.
It’s going to come down from the state, and it’s going to be a mandatory training issue, and it should be; we’ve been doing it for years.
ICAT de-escalation training, we’ve been doing that for five years already.
It’s great that it’s getting the attention that it should. What can we do to get ahead of the next curve?
We’re starting to look at second-generation drones. We made a big push with that; trained 20 operators right out of the chute. We had them get FAA certification, and coming from a tactical background, I certainly see a value for that in missing persons [and] community policing. We’ve been doing bodycams and dashcams for so long that it’s just a way of life for us. This is a good thing for everyone. It’s good for you, good for the community. You have the transparency.
The guys need to feel supported, and we do support them. But if you make a mistake, you have to take responsibility for your actions. Know that this is what we’re doing now. This is up on the website. It goes towards overall transparency.
NJ PEN: When it’s all said and done, and you’re looking back on your time as chief of the department, how would you like to be remembered in the role?
KEMPF: I really want to build up the areas of community policing. I want to break down any barrier I can with our community so that we can really work as partners to enhance the quality of life in Cherry Hill.
I definitely want to focus on morale within the police department, and I want to continue to hire the best and brightest. Cherry Hill puts a great effort into getting the quality applicants and representing our community from a diversity standpoint.
That’s your legacy: the next generation of police officers. It’s not lost on me how important that piece of the puzzle is. That we continue to hire the best and brightest, and a diverse department, and we continue to make investments in them in training, equipment, and quality.
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