Even if the city of Frederick were to develop a full-time crisis unit to help police interact with people undergoing mental health or other crises, the city's acting police chief believes officers should still be trained to handle those situations as well.
A city crisis unit with social workers and others that is available 24 hours a day to help police respond to calls would be a valuable asset to the department, acting chief Pat Grossman told the mayor and aldermen at a workshop Wednesday.
But officers would still need to be trained.
“We're still going to do anything humanly possible to help somebody in crisis,” Grossman said.
Frederick police have gradually increased their use of force in recent years, with Black people being the subject of nearly half of all uses o…
Grossman spoke during a workshop to discuss the police department's policies and training on the use of force.
It comes amid national calls to limit funding to police departments and shift some of their services, such as dealing with people experiencing homelessness or drug addiction, to other social service agencies.
The Frederick Police Department's statistics on the use of force have gradually increased in recent years, and Black people have been the subject of nearly half of the incidents, according to the department's annual reports.
Total use of force incidents reported by city police more than doubled from 58 incidents in 2016 to 144 reported the next year, according to an examination of the department’s data.
Since then, use of force incidents have increased every year, capping off at 174 last year, the data shows.
The reports also indicate that Black people make up a much higher number of individuals subjected to force compared to their representation in population estimates. While Black people only made up about 18 percent of the city’s population in 2019 census estimates, they accounted for about 45 percent of the use of force cases in the police department’s records for 2019.
Grossman outlined the laws and legal decisions that govern when and how officers can use force, as well as his department's policies on the issue and how officers are trained about the policies.
The policing profession has changed a lot in the past few years, especially in how officers are trained to interact with people experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, or addiction as the only 24-hour department in many municipalities, Grossman said.
Communities have asked officers to do more than they're trained to do, and elected officials share part of the blame, Alderman Derek Shackelford said.
“We allowed this to get here to where it is,” he said.
People are anxious to move fast to make changes on social issues, but the city has to avoid doing something in order to say it did something, he said.
Wednesday's conversation dealt with specifics of the department's policy, but also with larger topics that are going on nationally, such as implicit bias and systemic racism, said Alderman Ben MacShane.
A systemic problem doesn't require an officer to be an overt racist, MacShane said, alluding to the disproportionality of the department's use of force statistics.
In many such situations, the statistics are just a manifestation of a problem in the larger society, he said.
The city plans to have further discussions on the issue.