In March, 2019, an African-American Maryland Legal Aid attorney filed a complaint against a Harford County Sheriff’s deputy after being “improperly detained and accused of impersonating a client in Harford County District Court.” This incident should be a wake-up call for Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler — or better yet, a teachable moment.
The police have the difficult and dangerous job of protecting and serving our community. They put their lives at risk on a daily basis. However, Harford County has had its share of incidents in which people of color have been profiled and/or harassed by Harford County police — sometimes just for walking through their own neighborhoods. While no one believes that every police officer in Harford County is guilty of racial bias, having one gun-carrying officer whose behavior is unduly influenced by his or her racial biases, prejudices, preconceptions, hostility and/or intolerance is one officer too many.
Clearly, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office would benefit from ongoing anti-bias training. Not only would this benefit the sheriff and his staff, but it also benefits the diverse community they serve. We are all guilty of various levels of bias. Recognizing those biases is the first step in changing biased perspectives and behaviors.
Sheriff Gahler’s response to the March incident promised “a complete and thorough investigation,” and stated: “We hold our deputies to the highest level of integrity.” Unfortunately, he did not state that racial profiling and racial bias on the part of his staff are unacceptable and that they will not be tolerated, and now he claims the entire complaint was unfounded (“Harford sheriff says 'lawyering while black' complaint 'unfounded,’” April 9). In addition, it must be noted that having integrity and being guilty of racial bias are not mutually exclusive.
Providing on-going implicit bias training; cultural sensitivity training; mental health awareness training; and de-escalation techniques for his officers would give Sheriff Gahler a way to work toward establishing greater trust and cooperation with the residents of Harford County, as well as helping to keep everyone safe, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship status, disability, or gender identity.
Christopher Providence, Havre de Grace