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NJ Police Chief marches in George Floyd demonstration

Camden County, NJ Police Chief Joseph Wysocki joins Yahoo Finance’s Anjalee Khemlani and Zack Guzman to discuss why he marched in protests over the weekend in response to the death of George Floyd.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Broken windows and torched cars have been the scenes playing out right now across the country following protests against the death of George Floyd as he would arrested in Minneapolis. Since then, clashes between protesters and police have turned violent in many cities, including Philadelphia, where looting, fires, and killings prompted the National Guard to be called in. Curfews were also instituted.

And yet, right across the Delaware River, a very different scene went viral for much more positive reasons. In Camden, New Jersey, police officers over the weekend walked hand-in-hand with protesters to join in solidarity to voice their frustrations while avoiding the damage that's plagued other demonstrations across the country. Even Camden's chief of police helped carry signs arm-in-arm at the front of the march with Black Lives Matter protesters.

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And joining us for more on the effort that went into all of that to get the town to this point is Camden's Chief of Police, Joseph Wysocki. And he joins us now, along with Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani.

And Chief Wysocki, I mean, when we look at this, I was fascinated to learn that it wasn't just a result of a week effort, a month long effort, a years long-- I mean, this is going back pretty far in Camden's history to actually get this problem addressed. So what really went into this to make it a scene that a lot of people right now are applauding?

JOSEPH WYSOCKI: It's culture. The culture of our community, of our department, is community policing. And we really take pride of working with the community. As a police department, we can't impose our will on the community and say, this is what you're going to do. It doesn't work. We have to work together.

Before the coronavirus, I was doing a chat with the chief. I was going to different churches around the city and meeting with people and talking to people and hearing what their issues are and working with them. But our officers do this on a day in and day out basis. We do pop-up barbecues throughout the summer. We started again a couple weeks ago. And it's just a positive way to interact with the community and not--

ZACK GUZMAN: And even-- I mean, even your predecessor too had been focusing on kind of a shift in the way that your police force address use of force and basically kind of creating a doctrine that had been loosely interpreted for a couple of years, but actually finally putting it on paper, working with the ACLU to get this approved.

I mean, what is kind of the shift in thinking that your police department has versus what we've seen play out in Minneapolis, what we've seen play out at countless other police departments? What was the push there to really say from a theoretical level, this is what we're pushing here in Camden?

JOSEPH WYSOCKI: We realized that the way we were training, our policy wasn't up to date. And what we did is working with the ACLU and The Policing Project of Barry Friedman, PERF, in our community. We came up with what we believe is a very progressive use of force policy. Force is a last resort. We mandate de-escalation with the officers.

And one of the biggest things that you want to do is the duty to intervene like that. It's not an option. If we're dealing with individuals and human beings, our police officers are not robots. They're not Robocop, you know. It's like sometimes, you're not perfect.

But the other officers that are next to you have to look out for you. Like in this George Floyd case, I was waiting for someone to push him off when I saw that video. And I was horrified that you had the people pleading with him with really good reason to stop, and nobody stopped him. It's tragic.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Chief, Anjalee here. What went into the decision to, in fact, join the protesters? Was that something that you had decided from the beginning of the day, or was that a spur of the moment decision?

JOSEPH WYSOCKI: We met with the-- there were two different protests scheduled. We met with the organizers on Friday. I didn't personally. We brought clergy in to meet with them just to see what their intentions were. And they said that they agreed to merge it into one march. And they knew that officers were going to come.

When I went there on Saturday, I didn't tell the organizers that I was coming. When I got there, I walked up to Yolanda, who organized it. And I asked her, is it OK that I march with you? And she smiled. And she's like, absolutely.

And I-- can I take a picture with you? And when I saw her give the thumbs up, I was like-- I gave the thumbs up too. It's not something I've ever done before. It's just not something I normally do. So it was-- no, I didn't know what I was going through, to be honest.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: And we know that in general, Camden has had a long history of trying to, you know, really work on this relationship with the community, between the police force and the community, formerly a place that unfortunately ranked as the highest crime rate in the country. And a lot of work has been done to really pull the city through, including economically. Do you have a sense of what actions like this have in terms of economic ties for any community or for any city, like in Minneapolis?

JOSEPH WYSOCKI: I know Camden. I don't want to speak on Indianapolis. Like, I know back in the late '60s and early '70s, there was riots here in Camden. And it was a booming city. And it was financially devastated afterwards, and it's just come back. Economic development that's going on here in Camden and the businesses that are here-- people have jobs. Our unemployment rate before this virus was at record lows. People have jobs.

Chief Beck from LAPD at the time-- like, I'm stealing his line. But there's nothing that stops a bullet like a job. And our community, we're working together, and we have so many good things going on here in the city of Camden. Businesses are moving in. And so something like what happened in Minneapolis, if it would've come here to Camden, it would really set us back.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. And, I mean, right now, I guess stopping bullets has become the issue right now at hand as we're seeing National Guard troops called in to cities across the country. And we're looking at reports today of President Trump also discussing that with governor.

"The Washington Post" reporting that on that call, President Trump told governors that they need to show force against protesters, calling many of them weak, also saying, quote, "If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time," according to "The Post." So knowing what you've seen come from your efforts to de-escalate force in Camden, seeing the benefits play out this weekend as you marched with protesters, what's your reaction to the president's message?

JOSEPH WYSOCKI: I really have to look at what other police commissioners have said. What we're seeing in-- we're seeing it here. People are trying to organize, like in the local municipalities near us. There's people not from the area that are coming in and trying to push their narrative in Philadelphia and New York. Like the commissioners have said, outsiders are the ones that are burning things down and starting the trouble.

And the residents of Camden, when we met together, good things happen. It's locally. I don't want outside people to come in here and start throwing bricks through windows and setting things on fire. So it's a-- I don't know if that answers your question, but--

ZACK GUZMAN: Does it seem-- does it seem easier to kind of-- I guess you would notice those things too if you have a more peaceful accommodation with protesters and the police. I understand it might be harder in a more packed and dense city. But if you're talking about coming into these negotiations with the idea of we need to show force, does that at all, based off what you've learned, seems like a problem?

JOSEPH WYSOCKI: People are attacking police, and it's really a tough situation what's going on around the country. There was an officer killed across the country. Listen, this video hurts every bad cop-- or hurts every good cop. Like, it-- good cops across the country are hurting.

And people like the cops in Philly don't want to be fighting protesters, but it's the protesters' actions. And it's a-- I leave it up to Commissioner Outlaw in Philidelphia and Dermot Shea in New York. They're probably better suited. I'm not having that here. There's no-- there's no violence here, and I haven't had to deal with it. I prefer to work with the community and walk arm-in-arm with them, and that's what we're doing.

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, let me say, I mean, I think for everybody who watched the scenes play out too, it was a welcome break from some of the violent scenes that we've seen to have a city and to see a police force come together with protesters. It was certainly something to watch and very interesting to see the efforts that have come over the last couple of years to get that done. But Chief Wysocki and Anjalee Khemlani, I appreciate you joining us for the discussion.

JOSEPH WYSOCKI: I appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you for having me.