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Our View: Law enforcement work group a positive step toward serving ‘every member of the community’ | COMMENTARY

It’s one thing to put together a committee under pressure, reacting out of necessity to something horrible that has happened. It’s another to do so in a proactive manner with an eye toward improvement, trying to ensure something horrible does not happen.

So we applaud the decision by Carroll County law enforcement agencies to form a work group to address use of force policies across the county.

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The work group came about in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death in police custody in Minneapolis and subsequent protests. Sheriff Jim DeWees and Westminster Police Department Chief Thomas Ledwell began fielding questions on use of force and police-worn body cameras soon after.

“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 told us.

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DeWees and Ledwell reached out to the leaders in other law enforcement agencies to form a work group, which will also include the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office. Ledwell is coordinating the use of force policy group.

“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.”

This is absolutely what they should be doing. Not because a problem necessarily exists, but because the last thing anyone wants is something like what happened to Floyd happen again, anywhere. As DeWees said, “That’s not law enforcement.”

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.

Again, this is as it should be. No reason for one municipality to look at the use of force differently than the rest, potentially treating citizens in a dangerous manner.

Carroll resident and former FBI agent Charles Harrison was contacted to help educate police. “We need to teach police some introspection,” Harrison told us. “Look at yourself, try to identify those inherent biases that we all have.”

The plan is for Harrison 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,” Harrison said.

That has to be hard for law enforcement leadership to hear. Which is all the more reason this work group can be such a positive. Harrison described DeWees as “thinking outside the box” and receptive to suggestions.

We’re hopeful this work group will produce tangible results, such as standardized, clearly stated use-of-force policies based on best practices and, if financially feasible, the use of police-worn body cameras, which not only can illuminate bad policing but can also exonerate. Less tangible, but equally important, is the better understanding of all Carroll residents that can come out of this and can assist in community police work.

DeWees said he hopes a countywide law enforcement training can be organized this fall 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.

“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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That’s a lofty and laudable goal. Forming this work group was a critical and appropriate step toward reaching it.

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