Gabriel Rodriguez, BA’19 (Metro)
Inspiring a Community
“I came from a broken home, had a single mother on welfare, and work was the most important thing to keep food on the table. When I was walking to school, I wasn’t thinking about that exam I had to take or that book I had to read, I was thinking about which way to get to school so I could make it there safely,” says Gabriel Rodriguez, BA’19 (Metro). “I knew there had to be more, and I knew that education was the key.”
After high school, he started studying at Camden County [N.J.] College. After a year, Rodriguez was offered employment in the city’s police department, and he seized that opportunity. Beginning as a patrolman, he served as a city officer for 18 years with stints in the Community Policing Unit, on the Violent Crimes Task Force and with the Strategic Multi-agency Shooting and Homicide Team. He’s been part of [former] Mayor Frank Moran’s executive detail and the Neighborhood Response Team.
Along the way, he went back to college. “I always had that goal, and I want to educate myself as much as I can and to set that bar for my children. I’m so grateful to FDU for making that possible for me.”
Rodriguez not only earned his bachelor’s degree from FDU in 2019 taking classes both in person and online, but he also graduated from the prestigious Senior Management Institute for Policing at Boston (Mass.) University. These accomplishments helped him eventually earn the top spot on the force. He was sworn in as the Camden County Police Department chief on September 21, 2020.
“I am most proud of just serving the people and serving the community that I love. My main focus has been on educating and mentoring the youth,” he says. “That’s been the greatest part of the job. I tell them, ‘I came from the same challenges. I’ve been in your shoes, and if I can do it, you can too. When I see you, I see a future chief of police, a future sheriff, a mayor, a governor, a president. Anything is possible.’”
Rodriguez also has the honor of being the department’s first Hispanic chief. “That’s something I am also very proud of, and I am so grateful to represent Camden first and then, of course, the Latinos in our country as well.”
During Rodriguez’s tenure, Camden has drastically lowered its crime rate. “In my first year as chief, we had the lowest violent crime rate since 1974. But I want to get that number even lower and make sure that Camden residents can experience a quality of life like anyone in a suburban town. I want our kids not to worry about their safety and instead focus on their education.”
He’s also intent on recruiting new officers, particularly officers who reflect the community they serve. “It’s a very unpopular profession today, but there’s no profession more rewarding. To know that you are having a tremendous impact on someone’s life is very rewarding. You’re making them feel safe and helping them to have a better life. We need good police officers, and we need people to join the team and be part of the solution.”
Rodriguez is also continuing his own education, pursuing his master’s degree in public administration from FDU. “I had some great professors, in person and online at FDU, and I want to be one of those folks teaching and educating others when I retire from the force.”