Retiring chief reflects on 34 years with New Salem PD

  • Chief Joseph P. Camden plans to retire on July 1, following 34 years with the New Salem Police Department. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/22/2022 4:18:08 PM
Modified: 6/22/2022 4:17:49 PM

NEW SALEM — When Joseph P. Camden joined the force in 1988, his police cruiser was a station wagon affixed with a blue light that would easily drain the vehicle’s battery. In the past 34 years, cruisers have gone through a striking metamorphosis.

“We have air conditioning and power windows and a motor data terminal, radar,” he said. “We have cellphones.”

Camden has seen all the reform and technological advances law enforcement has undergone in the past three and a half decades and is getting ready to hang up his badge. He plans to retire as chief — a position he was appointed to in 1992 — on July 1.

“It’s time to accept that it’s time to go,” he said, adding that he will turn 62 on July 5.

Camden grew up in Athol and graduated from that town’s high school in 1979. He has lived in New Salem most of his adult life.

The outgoing chief believes Lt. John Bonafini will assume the department’s leadership after July 1. He explained he started his career with the Orange Police Department and soon after moved to New Salem, where that town’s chief encouraged him to join the department. For a while, Camden held both jobs.

Coming up on retirement, he stressed that he greatly values the camaraderie and support a small town offers.

“To me, it’s very beneficial because you know the residents. You know you can help them do things. You know the kids. You know the community,” he said. “The residents in town have always made me feel very welcome. The majority of residents have been very supportive during my career.”

Camden said he has embraced the reform in police culture resulting from a change in the nation’s political climate.

“We accepted changes without any resistance of any sort,” he said. “Our goal is to be helpful.”

The chief said small-town policing has changed as much as any other type, perhaps even more so. When he started, the New Salem Police Department — which has always been staffed entirely by part-time employees — did not have dispatch. Camden explained the on-call officer brought to their home the department’s service firearm and a red landline telephone that he said resembled a rotary phone. It received calls, but had no dialing mechanism. Residents wanting to reach the police called the station number and the red phone would ring. But, Camden said, the on-call officer could very well have been working another job, meaning the officer’s family members would have to answer the phone and get the message to the officer.

Reflecting on his career, Camden said his fondest memory is probably from 2009, when a Boston Globe reporter called him requesting an interview because FBI data indicated New Salem had been the safest community in Massachusetts the prior year. He recalled he initially thought the reporter was a friend joking with him.

“I think that was the most memorable day,” he said.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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