Rowan Magazine – Summer 1999
Robert E. Allenbach ’95, Camden’s chief of police, is laying down the law in one of the country’s most crime-ridden cities. Since Allenbach took command in 1998, Camden’s homicide rate has dropped from a high of 64 in one year to seven for the first six months of this year. In addition, the average police response time has dropped from 33 minutes to eight. Allenbach has also increased police presence on the streets and reinstated many crime prevention programs like the Multi-Agency Life Line project which identifies and helps troubled youths before they become career criminals.
The former detective and undercover officer has no regrets about accepting the challenge of revitalizing Camden’s police department. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it so far,” said Allenbach. “I get to attend community meetings, work with community leaders, and in my opinion, lead the best police department in the nation.”
Allenbach started his college career at Rowan in 1966 but put it on hold to join the military. After joining the Camden police force in 1974 he returned to school–only to be placed on undercover assignment for seven years. He then put his educational plans on hold again to raise a family with his wife, Mary. He resumed his studies part time in the late eighties and completed a degree in law and justice studies in 1995.
Although Allenbach reviews major investigations and cases, his responsibilities don’t include investigative work. He mostly focuses on managing the day-to-day operations, personnel and budgetary needs of the department. Evening hours usually include meetings with civilian organizations, neighborhood watch groups and community leaders.
He considers the redeployment of his officers into staggered shifts the most successful and important change he’s made. Now more than 100 officers are on the streets at the times the city receives the most calls for assistance. “Overlapping the shifts gives our officers a higher profile on the street and more time to do proactive and community-oriented police work,” said Allenbach. “Instead of just reacting to problems they can now work to prevent them.”
Allenbach is also combating crime with a multi-agency initiative funded by the federal government. “We’ve joined forces with the FBI, the prosecutor’s office, the sheriff’s department, the state police and the county police,” said Allenbach. “Pooling our manpower, resources and equipment allows us to better target Camden’s drug sets and enables the government to prosecute a vast majority of the criminals with stricter federal charges.”
In addition to his initiatives on the street, Allenbach‘s making changes in the department. He recently completed a $1.5 million state-of-the-art upgrade to the department’s communications center, replaced older patrol cars with new ones and replaced the old typewriters on his detectives’ desks with new computers– all of which has boosted his department’s morale, brought praise from politicians and won the support and confidence of Camden’s residents.
While Allenbach is pleased with his department’s progress, he hopes the city will make a complete comeback. Until then, he continues to work with City Hall and county officials to rebuild and modernize the Police Department. “I get a lot of compliments from both civilians and politicians,” said Allenbach. “I can’t go anywhere in Camden without someone coming up to me, shaking my hand and saying, ‘Thanks, Chief–we can see a difference.’”