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Carroll County police group to assess use of force policies, body cameras: ‘We’d be neglectful if we didn’t take a look’

Local law enforcement agencies have formed a work group to look into addressing use of force policies across Carroll County and the feasibility of implementing police-worn body cameras.

In the weeks after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, protesters across the country — as well as in Carroll County — have called for justice and police reform. Sheriff Jim DeWees and Westminster Police Department Chief Thomas Ledwell have fielded questions from individual residents about their policies regarding use of force and body cameras.

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“That can’t happen here,” DeWees said of Floyd’s death. “That’s not law enforcement.”

DeWees and Ledwell talked about what local law enforcement could do, and so they reached out to leaders in other law enforcement agencies to form a group. The Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office will be involved in the group, but DeWees said members of the public will not.

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One of the people they contacted to help educate police was Carroll County resident and former FBI agent Charles Harrison.

Harrison, a Baltimore County native, worked 28 years for the FBI. He participated in undercover operations and spent time in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., region, though he said his work also took him all over the world. When he was undercover, Harrison said, he feared how police would treat him for being Black. He hopes his knowledge can help improve Carroll County law enforcement.

“We need to teach police some introspection,” Harrison said. “Look at yourself, try to identify those inherent biases that we all have.”

Harrison’s goal is to assist with the work group’s curriculum writing and instruction to help law enforcement officials learn how to better police minority communities.

“If we’ve got racists that are out here in the Carroll community, and that’s the community that we recruit from, then sure as heck you can bet we got racists on the force,” he said.

Harrison described DeWees as “thinking outside the box” and receptive to suggestions.

“With all the focus on law enforcement and use of force around the country, we’d be neglectful if we didn’t take a look at what we’re doing internally,” DeWees said.

Ledwell is coordinating the use of force policy group. They plan to have their first meeting next week.

DeWees said he hopes a use of force policy can be established across the county so residents don’t have to wonder how they will be treated by police from one town to the next.

“It’s a nationwide discussion right now,” Ledwell said. “We want to make sure that we’re taking a good look at our own policies, our own training curriculum … so that we are in line with the best practices.”

While DeWees said the work group is in its infancy, he hopes that in the fall they can organize a countywide law enforcement training to further educate officers on topics such as cultural differences and implicit bias. He said officers are already trained in these areas, but more can be done.

“I want to make sure we take it to a different level,” he said. “My main goal is that they walk away with a deeper understanding of where we’re at with 2020 policing and the cultural differences in policing so they can go out and better serve every member of the community regardless of race,” gender, or ethnicity, he said.

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Although it’s undecided whether or when any specific changes will occur, DeWees said he wants to ensure the work group is not a “one hit wonder.”

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