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Dallas police shootings lead Carroll law enforcement officials to call for vigilance

In the wake of the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, Carroll County's law enforcement leaders said they've urged their officers to be vigilant but also spoke about the importance of engaging the community to avoid mistrust of police.

"Incidents in Dallas and closer to home in Harford County can deeply scorn us and send us in the opposite direction when serving our community, but we can't let that happen," Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said, referring to the fatal shootings of two Harford sheriff's deputies in February. "We don't send deputies out each day to engage the enemy; we send them out to engage their community."

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Five police officers were fatally shot and seven others wounded in Dallas on Thursday night during a protest about fatal police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.

Micah Xavier Johnson, a 25-year-old Army veteran, told authorities that he was upset about the police shootings of two black men earlier this week and wanted to exterminate whites, "especially white officers," officials said Friday. Johnson was killed by a robot-delivered bomb after the shootings.

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On Friday, local police chiefs offered prayers and thoughts for the victims and their families, and noted their officers would be wearing mourning shrouds on their badges in honor of the fallen officers in Texas. Like many others, the local officers were trying to make sense of the tragedies.

Many acknowledged that Carroll County is largely supportive of local police and law enforcement in general, but also said they've reminded officers to stay vigilant.

"These are uncertain times, and the events in Dallas may serve as a catalyst for others with similar intentions to act," Westminster police Chief Jeff Spaulding said, noting that he and other Maryland law enforcement agencies had been getting updates throughout the day from the Baltimore Field Office of the FBI and the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center showing that there was no indication of a threat to the region.

"That said, all of our officers are trained in officer safety, and they utilize these skills daily as they go about their duties," Spaulding said. "We are also very fortunate to have the support of our community."

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Manchester police Chief John Hess said agencies will be talking to officers about safety but will also be encouraging them "to continue building a positive bond with everyone in the community."

"None of us wake up and hope that our day will bring a day where we are faced with violence and the possibility of the loss of life," he said.

Police-involved shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota seemingly served as a catalyst for Johnson's actions in Dallas. Carroll law enforcement leaders didn't specifically address those incidents but said mistakes are occasionally made in the field.

"We craft our agencies with dedicated men and women who on rare occasions make mistakes, either due to training failures or due to flawed judgment," Hampstead police Chief Ken Meekins said. "When criminal acts are identified, due process must be pursued. When training failures are identified, remedial training must be conducted."

Hess said some police agencies have bad apples who slip through the cracks, though "every effort is taken to weed them out."

"All chiefs, sheriffs, commissioners and their command staff want a complete team with integrity, and will create as many check and balance systems to maintain that respect," he said. "Is there room for improvement? Yes, and we will continue to work in that direction collectively."

Violence against law enforcement, though, isn't going to address that issue, he said.

"If the bad guys with guns believe killing police is the answer, they are sadly mistaken and clearly part of the problem, not the solution," Hess said.

While information was still coming out about Johnson on Friday afternoon, several local law enforcement leaders said his actions only added to tensions among police and portions of the citizenry already distrustful of police.

"We will never presume to make sense of these acts against us and can only learn from them," DeWees said. "The [shooter] in Dallas wanted to create a bigger divide between police and the community; we can't let that happen."

Meekins said the rush to judgment by elected officials to use every tragedy as an opportunity to politicize the killings of and by law enforcement officers only exacerbates that divisiveness.

President Obama condemned the violence as "vicious" and "despicable," and promised that "justice will be done." House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were among congressional leaders who urged unity and nonviolence in response to the shootings.

Meekins called on political leaders "to search their souls and choose to support our officers, deputies and agents."

"Stop the rhetoric that feeds this violence and work to build communities that work on solutions to problems rather than create more of them," he said. "I challenge all of you who care, to listen carefully to those who speak on this topic in the weeks to follow. It's time for you to choose also."

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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