Vying for the top position in the Frederick Police Department, the two finalists on Tuesday offered what role diversity, community engagement, accountability and more have in law enforcement.
Jason Lando, a commander of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and Cleveland Spruill Sr., police chief of Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, each hope to be the next chief of the department.
Former Frederick chief Ed Hargis retired nearly a year ago. A search committee consisting of residents narrowed a pool of 35 applicants down to seven, then a committee of the city's leadership team trimmed the candidates down further.
Lando and Spruill had the chance to appeal to the residents — and the mayor who will recommend one of them to the Board of Aldermen — in a virtual public stream Tuesday night.
Lando, the first to present, described himself as someone who helped turn around the community's perception of the police department. He's drawn to FPD for the opportunity to chief and to be closer to family.
Nicknamed the "fighting fifth," the zone 5 police station Lando leads in western Pennsylvania had a rocky relationship with the community when he was promoted to lead it in 2014.
"There was a high amount of mistrust. We had regular protests in front of our police station," Lando said.
After working a few years in zone 5 as a sergeant and lieutenant, Lando said he knew when he got into the commander position that he wanted to change the relationship between police and the people they serve. He organized a group called the "commander's cabinet," which brought together community leaders and police.
Part of that response includes training officers to understand implicit bias and racism, he said, while recognizing police are not going to be experts in all subjects. Lando suggested supporting "co-responders" like a civilian trained in the mental health profession.
In the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement has been at the forefront of conversations on policing across the country. Lando acknowledged Black people have suffered tremendously and spoke to a desire to connect this group and other people of color in the community. As part of his vision for Frederick, he would have a civil affairs team work with protest groups to ensure demonstrations occur peacefully. He also believes in releasing body camera footage shortly after an incident to be transparent.
“The police department is something a city should be proud of and, unfortunately, around the country right now we’re not seeing that," Lando said. "That’s something I’d like to change.”
While Lando has spent 20 years with Pittsburgh's police, Spruill has moved around more in his 33 years of law enforcement.
Spruill spent nearly 27 years with the Alexandria, Virginia, police department, where he was deputy chief for eight years. Wanting to move up, Spruill accepted a job as chief of the Huntersville, North Carolina, police department, where he served for about five years before entering his current role in Georgia. Like Lando, Frederick appeals to Spruill in part due to its proximity to his loved ones.
Spruill described himself as a "cop's cop" with a proven track record. He plans to aggressively pursue violent offenders, but takes a different approach with other aspects of the criminal justice system. Spruill characterized mental health struggles as an illness, substance abuse as a sickness and homelessness as a life condition.
"We know all of those things are not crimes, but if they're left unchecked they will inevitably lead to those individuals' involvement in the criminal justice system," Spruill said.
To prevent those crimes, Spruill said he would lead those people to treatment and services. Spruill believes the eyes, ears and partnership with the community are law enforcement's greatest tool. He promoted a "guardian" mentality over a "warrior" mentality among police.
Having a diverse police force and one that is engaged with people of color is key to Spruill. In discussing this, he said he would not support the federal 287(g) program that helps local law enforcement screen inmates for immigration violations. Spruill would like to see dismantling racism workshops that bring police and residents together. He acknowledged Black men are incarcerated at a disproportionally higher rate across the country.
“You need only look at my past to see what that future looks like," Spruill said.
Sometime following the forum, Mayor Michael O’Connor will pick a candidate to present to the Board of Aldermen. The two-hour video of the candidates' forum can be viewed online via the city's website.