Prince George's County Sheriff Melvin High talks about the importance of law enforcement during a roundtable discussion on 21st century policing at the sheriff's office in Upper Marlboro on Nov. 13. Photo by William J. Ford
Prince George's County Sheriff Melvin High talks about the importance of law enforcement during a roundtable discussion on 21st century policing at the sheriff's office in Upper Marlboro on Nov. 13. Photo by William J. Ford

Police and sheriff departments need to be more transparent, hire a more diverse workforce and instill trust with the community.

Those were just three of the dozens of recommendations mentioned Friday, Nov. 13 at a law enforcement roundtable held at the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office in Upper Marlboro. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) led the discussion which focused on a report by President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

About 40 police officers and officials from the federal, county and municipal governments attended the nearly 90-minute meeting to present strategies and ideas to improve police activities.

“I want to express the gratitude of everyone here for the outstanding job that all of you are doing. People don’t say that enough,” Hoyer said. “The number one issue right now is helping local [police] departments build trust with the communities they serve. Unfortunately, that confidence has been shaken and we need to make sure it’s restored.”

Several suggestions on ways to increase confidence with the public came from Katherine McQuay and Deborah Spence, officials with the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and members of the task force.

According to the president’s task force final report distributed at the meeting, law enforcement agencies can establish six pillars:

Building trust and legitimacy;

  • Policy and oversight;
  • Technology and social media;
  • Community policing and crime reduction;
  • Training and education; and
  • Officer wellness and safety.

Within the report, one of the action items suggests “when serious incidents occur, including those involving alleged police misconduct, agencies should communicate with citizens and the media swiftly, openly, and neutrally, respecting areas where the law requires confidentiality.”

The report highlights a graph with four questions that include: How much confidence do you have in police officers in your community to not use excessive force on suspects? About 59 percent of Blacks surveyed last year said “just some/very little.” About 54 percent of Hispanics gave the same response, but only 24 percent of whites agreed.

The report also recommends departments increase accessibility to provide crime statistics and other up-to-date information through its websites and social media. McQuay said the information posted should be written in different languages.

“The department should look like the community it serves. Perceptions and first impressions matter,” said McQuay, senior policy advisor with the Department of Justice.

Police officials said they have already incorporated modern police activities.

The county’s Police Department posts photos and information on those being sought for various crimes, traffic alerts and community programs on its Twitter account.

In the last five years, Police Chief Mark Magaw said homicides decreased by 40 percent and violent crimes by 38 percent.

“It’s not because we have enough officers, because we don’t; it’s because of the relationship with the community,” he said. “If you are not here to serve our community, [then] this is not the right police department for you.”

In regards to an officer’s mental health, the report suggests the federal government research on how frequently officers should receive those check-ups.

Hoyer said money isn’t easy to obtain on the federal level, so he asked Spence and McQuay to ask Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for state money to provide officers comprehensive health care coverage.

Some municipal police departments don’t have the finances to offer mental health services such as psychiatric treatment.

Capitol Heights Police Chief Anthony L. Ayers Sr. said his department has eight chaplains who offer free counseling, therapy sessions and other stress reliever activities for 11 officers.

“You have to be creative being a chief. You can’t cry about not having money because sometimes money is not there,” he said.

“The good thing is our chaplains don’t charge. A police chaplain is a pastor or religious leader that wants to give back to the community. They are not only helping the department, but also the officers who in turn will do better work in the community,” he added.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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