Noticeable by its absence during local protests of law enforcement have been specific expressions of disapproval aimed at local law enforcement. In other words, while Carroll countians have been out in solid numbers protesting injustice on a national level, like so many other communities have for the past several months, there has been no particular community component to it. There hasn’t been any sort of major incident, nor, it seems, a rash of the of smaller incidents that, over time, could create the type of culture that might prompt a little civil unrest.
That’s what makes the proactive steps being taken by law enforcement in Carroll County seem all the more genuine. No outside groups are calling for change, but, internally, the various departments are trying to be enterprising, getting ahead of any issues and figuring out if they are doing everything right in terms of interactions with citizens, use of force policies, etc.
At the beginning of the summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death in police custody in Minneapolis that sparked nationwide protests and concerns about law enforcement, Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees and Westminster Police Chief Thomas Ledwell reached out to the leaders of law enforcement agencies throughout the county and the state’s attorney’s office and formed a work group to ensure all policies and trainings were in line with best practices.
DeWees told us the work group has made a lot of progress, including drafting a use of force policy that will be reviewed not only by all chiefs but by key civic groups, as well as putting together a training course for diversity and cultural differences. Much more on that to come.
The latest example of a police proactivity, trying to improve before an obvious problem emerges. is the Westminster Police Department being accepted into the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project. The ABLE project is run by Georgetown University Law Center’s national training and support initiative for U.S. law enforcement agencies. According to a WPD news release, the ABLE project provides practical active bystandership strategies and tactics to law enforcement officers to prevent misconduct, reduce officer mistakes and promote health and wellness.
Professor Christy Lopez, co-director of Georgetown Law’s Innovative Policing Program, told us she believes active bystandership practice is important and every department should be working on it. “It is teaching officers how to intervene. We are combining that training and trying to change cultures within the agency and redefine what officer loyalty is,” Lopez said. “(ABLE) is more than a training program it is transformative of the whole policing agency.”
In the coming months, all departmental officers will receive eight hours of evidence-based active bystandership training, designed not only to prevent harm, but to change the culture of policing, according to the release. The training is meant to be incorporated in other trainings that officers have to go through regularly.
Ledwell said he isn’t aware of an instance when his officers failed to intervene but wants to be proactive regardless. He also told us he likes that the project offers a component of health and wellness for officers. “Police officers deal with a lot of stress from dealing with incidents and when you have officers that are physically and mentally healthy, then they are more likely to deal with situations in a healthy manner,” he said.
Ledwell told us he is expecting this training to have a positive impact and is hopeful it will help build trust with the community as the department shows it is open to improving.
We commend Westminster, and all the Carroll law enforcement agencies, for working to get better at a time when they are under intense scrutiny and the stakes couldn’t be higher.