Cherry Hill may seem like an unlikely place for a community policing campaign. There have not been any protests or backlash against the suburban police force.
Still, Police Chief William P. Monaghan wants to build an even better relationship with residents in the sprawling Camden County township of 71,000.
The department's new campaign slogan? "Run with us, not away from us."
All year, members of the Cherry Hill Police Department have participated in charity runs — for a good cause and to help generate goodwill for officers — and next weekend they will be part of another, this one to benefit victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Monaghan is urging residents to literally run with members of the Police Department. On Saturday, officers will participate in their third charity event this year — a 5K run and walk sponsored by the Cherry Hill Public Library. He hopes the public will see his 135-member force in a friendly light as they jog alongside officers.
"We want to break down any barriers that exist," Monaghan said. "This is an opportunity for people to see that we are just as human as they are, out of breath and sweating like they are."
A 22-year police veteran, Monaghan, 45, said the campaign is not in response to any specific incident of the kind that has drawn backlash from activists such as the Black Lives Matter group.
"It is extremely important to build positive contacts before something negative happens," said Monaghan, who rose through the ranks in the department and was named chief in 2014. "It's really good to know a name or a face."
The "Book It 5K" has drawn participants of all ages from neighboring communities and even Philadelphia. Besides the run, there will be a one-mile walk and a 100-yard dash for the younger or less adventurous crowd.
By Friday, 124 people had signed up for the event, the second year the 5K has been sponsored by the library.
About a dozen or so officers are expected to participate in the run, Monaghan said. The officers must pay the $35 registration fee and use time off, he said. The department this year has already participated in charity races at Cooper River Park to raise funds to help a canine association and for disabled athletes. It also held a "coffee with a cop" event.
"We're thrilled to have the police there," said Katie Hardesty, a spokeswoman for the library. In addition to the run, police will be available for a meet-and-greet at the library.
Saturday's 3.1-mile race will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the library in the Ellisburg section. Participants must register and pay the fee. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. Proceeds from the event, originally planned to benefit the library, have been earmarked to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, Hardesty said.
Dawn-Marie Dunphy Higgins, vice president of the Erlton North-Windsor Civic Association, said residents in her neighborhood of 1,500 homes, have been encouraged to participate in the race. She believes the police involvement helps give Cherry Hill a small-town feeling from years past.
Higgins, 61, who has lived in Cherry Hill for 50 years, hopes to complete the one-mile walk, and bring along her husband, John, 65.
"If I'm running it's because someone is chasing me," she quipped. "I think I can handle the mile."
Lifelong township resident Pat McCargo, a member of the Cherry Hill African American Civic Association, welcomed the new campaign as a "proactive approach" especially to build trust between police and the black community. About 4,700 of the township's residents are black.
"I think this is a very good idea. Throughout the country, people get leery," said McCargo, 70, whose husband, Bill, is a retired Cherry Hill police officer. "Our people wonder when they get stopped, Did I really do something wrong or is it a question of driving while black?"
In this story the start time of the race has been been corrected.