New Jersey police ambushed: Gunman ambushes 2 officers sitting in vehicle.
Two Camden County police detectives escaped with their lives when gunmen opened fire on them at close range Tuesday evening, authorities said.
“They were essentially ambushed,” Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson said of the “completely unprovoked” attack.
The unidentified officers were “doing well” and in stable condition at Cooper University Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, said county spokesman Dan Keashen.
The plainclothes officers were sitting in a unmarked vehicle at a red light at Broadway and Walnut Street, traveling toward downtown Camden, when two men opened fire around 8:30 p.m., the county Prosecutor’s Office said in a preliminary account Wednesday.
The gunmen fired “between 10 and 25 rounds,” including some that went through the vehicle’s windshield, Thomson said at a news conference Tuesday night.
The unnamed officers, a male and a female, were rushed to Cooper for treatment of wounds that the chief said were not life-threatening.
Thomson credited that outcome to “the grace of God.”
One detective managed to return fire and the gunmen fled the scene, the chief said.
“We don’t know if his rounds struck anyone or anything,” he said of the detective.
Thomson said police were checking with area hospitals for anyone arriving with gunshot wounds.
“We have a rapidly unfolding investigation to identify and apprehend the perpetrators,” he said.
The prosecutor’s office said it also is conducting an investigation, required under state guidelines for any shooting that involves a municipal police officer.
The wounded detectives have been put on administrative leave pending the prosecutor’s review.
Thomson said the detectives were working in a “non-enforcement capacity” at the time of the attack.
He acknowledged it wasn’t clear if the detectives had been targeted as law enforcement officers.
“At this point in time, we’re not speculating as to the mindset,” he said.
“Maybe they did think they were police officers,” he said. “Maybe they thought they were somebody else. We’ll find out.”
The female detective was shot in the hand, a police officer told the Courier-Post. The other detective was shot twice in the arm, according to media reports.
Rick Kunkel, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 218, which represents Camden County Police officers, said he spoke with both detectives Wednesday afternoon and they were in good spirits, grateful for the visits from their fellow officers and for the outpouring of support from the public.
“I know that goes a long way, knowing they have the community’s support,” Kunkel said. “We don’t see that every day in this job, so for them to know the public supports them is meaningful.”
The shootings occurred on a blighted, but heavily traveled, corridor between the downtown area and South Camden neighborhoods.
The area where the officers were shot is known for drug activity. Spent hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia are commonly found among the debris littering the area. And substance users regularly weave along the sidewalks or into traffic.
City workers in August 2015 conducted a massive cleanup near the scene, clearing brush, removing debris and razing abandoned houses. The effort was meant to make the area less appealing to drug users, prostitutes and illegal dumpers.
“This is about changing the environment where bad things can occur,” Thomson said at the time.
The shootings happened on National Night Out, an annual celebration designed to build partnerships between police officers and the communities they serve. The Camden County Police Department was among those participating, with officers attending community events throughout the city.
“It’s not lost on us that tonight of all nights this happened to our officers,” Thomson said. “… Unfortunately on a night when we’re supposed to be celebrating safety, two of our detectives were engaged as victims.
“I can tell you every cop in this land would say we’d rather have it (be) us than the citizenry,” the chief added.
Thomson said he spoke with the officers’ mothers at the hospital Tuesday night, and he described them as “extremely distraught.”
“We understand the inherent risk in this job,” he said, noting a Philadelphia police officer had been shot Monday.
Thomson was joined at the news conference by Mayor Frank Moran; Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli; and representatives from the New Jersey State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, state Attorney General’s Office, and Philadelphia-Camden High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force.
Many of those agencies were assisting Camden County police with the investigation, Thomson noted.
Kunkel said all officers, whether in uniform or plainclothes, face inherent dangers on the job. Uniformed officers are more visible to the public, but also to potentially hostile actors, while undercover officers might have their identities discovered at any moment, exposing them to danger they might not see coming.
“(Police officers) are always completely on their toes,” Kunkel noted. “They can never ride around with complacency, they always have to be thinking, what if I’m attacked or someone’s figured out who I am?”
The FOP’s support includes assisting the injured officers and their families with anything from meals to rides to the hospital, he said, and will continue as long as it’s needed.
Fellow officers from departments all over have stepped up as well, he said.
“My phone is going off constantly from other departments offering help. Police in the towns where they live have offered to take meals to their homes and do whatever else is needed,” Kunkel said.
“It’s the whole law enforcement community, and it’s like a family.”
Camden County police officers, who started patrolling the city in May 2013, have been wounded in two previous shootings.