All In the Family

Lt. Linda Alicea is no stranger to making history. She became the first Hispanic woman to reach a commanding rank in the Camden County Police Department when she took command of the city’s 4th District in 2015. Today, Alicea runs the 1st District.

In 2014, she was part of another first; she and her daughter, Cynthia Melendez, because the first mother-daughter police officers to serve the city of Camden – in fact, they were the first in the state.

Alicea, 42, says she never wanted to be anything but a police officer.

“I had law enforcement in my family, and from the age of 7 or 8 all I wanted to do was be a police officer,” she remembers. “That was a big dream for me. I became a state corrections officer first, and then was able to attend the police academy for the Camden City force.”

Melendez, 25, says becoming a police officer was her childhood dream as well. When she graduated from the police academy in 2014, her mother was there to pin her badge on. Her mother has also been there, she says, to help guide her through a male-dominated profession.

“It can be tough, and you sometimes get underestimated,” Melendez says. “If you’re pretty, somebody might treat you like eye candy, but she’s shown me it’s all about how you conduct yourself. You don’t even pay attention to that – you just do your job.”

In many ways, Alicea feels she’s paved the way for a new generation of female officers in Camden, because she knows the men on the force respect what she’s capable of.

“At first they look at you, and you’re smaller than them, you’re not as strong,” Alicea says. “It takes time for these men to develop that trust and know they can depend on you. But I’ve had male partners say to me, ‘You might be a woman, but you’re the first person I’d want to take with me into a gunfight.’”

In some situations, Alicea says, her gender gives her a distinct advantage when it comes to policing.

“It’s a natural thing, being a woman, to have a kind of sensitivity, to be more patient and deescalate things,” she says. “A lot of the time a male suspect doesn’t want to disrespect a female. They might be a hardcore criminal, but they still have a mother that they love. It does make a difference in some situations.”

Melendez says her mother has been her biggest mentor, and in turn she hopes to be a role model for young men and women in Camden.

“I expect myself to move up the ranks, eventually become a lieutenant or maybe even more,” Melendez says. “I was born in and raised in the city of Camden, and working in the city makes you proud. We have little kids who look up to us, and we can let them know that just because you grow up here, it doesn’t end here.”

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