It’s time for change in policing in America; in Maryland; right here in Frederick County. There have been calls for reform from time to time, but not much has happened, and not much has improved. It’s time to rethink the place of police in our communities. The time for reform has come and gone. It’s time to remake our police system.
We’re sure (at least hopeful) that many of the officers and deputies in the county, including Frederick City Police, Brunswick Police, Thurmont Police and the Sheriff’s Office, are good and decent men and women, but even they are caught in the military-like culture of policing.
Using the language of J. Scott Thomson, former police chief who totally changed policing in Camden, N.J., we need “guardians” of our community, not “warriors seeking to dominate criminals through toughness.”
We would like to see significant changes in policing in Frederick County, especially regarding Black and brown residents, who often feel and/or are intimidated and targeted. We’ve read about a multitude of ways that other communities are addressing this issue, but the direction taken in Camden, N.J. strikes us as most likely to be effective here. Camden is admittedly very much unlike Frederick, but the steps that it took and many of the results (much less crime, less drug dealing, far fewer excessive force complaints against the police, and improved rapport between police and community) lead us to suggest serious consideration of the following here:
Instead of reforms that are unlikely to work, let’s start over.
1) Let officers and deputies go. Start new departments with new rules.
2) Let officers/deputies reapply if their records are good and if they buy into the changes.
3) Put into place plans to raise pay of officers/deputies in recognition of their expected contribution to our communities and of the risks that are inherent in their jobs.
4) Build new educational requirements (that can be met over a period of time) into the new rules and a commitment to fund those educational goals.
Change the culture and the expectations of policing from a warrior mentality to a guardian mentality. We all need to trust that the police are here for all of us, not just the white people among us. Police need to feel that the community as a whole, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, gender identification or socio-economic status (or anything else) trusts them.
Officers/deputies need to be trained in de-escalation issues. It is crucial that they both learn how to avoid initiating/escalating conflict and buy into the mentality and means of de-escalation before using force.
All police need to consider themselves guardians of the community and work to gain the goodwill of residents. Hosting picnics and barbecues, shooting hoops with teens, introducing themselves in a friendly manner, parking their vehicles and doing patrol on foot or bike and chatting with county residents are some ways of building rapport.
Respect and empathy from the police are an absolute must. Just as in teaching, if employees don’t both give and receive respect and empathy, they are in the wrong profession.
Following are some of the quotes that we think are exceptionally valuable from the former chief of police leading the transformation of policing in Camden:
“Sanctity of human life and the Hippocratic ethos of ‘first, do no harm’ were guiding principles.”
“There’s a raging debate right now about ‘defunding’ the police, but it’s missing the point. Communities need police. What they don’t need is a cop with a warrior’s psyche and an occupier’s mentality.”
“As we got to know our neighbors better, we shifted from enforcing the law upon them to upholding the law with them.”
To our elected officials, police departments and sheriff’s office: thank you for looking for ways to make our county and cities safer for, and welcoming to, all of our Frederick County residents and visitors, but most especially for the Black and brown members of our community who have frequently felt neither safe nor welcome.
Mary Antosca is a retired Frederick County Public Schools teacher from Rosemont; Lauren Blackmon is a FCPS teacher and business owner from Frederick; Jessica Batten-Ruddell is a FCPS educator from Frederick and Colleen Hardy-Belt is a FCPS special education assistant from Brunswick.