DUNDALK — The Baltimore County Equitable Policing Workgroup gathered at the Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center on Feb. 13 for the East County Listening Session.
The workgroup, initiated by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, was created in an effort to bring greater transparency and accountability around the issue of equitable policing.
In 2018, data reveled that African-Americans were issued citations at a higher rate than other races, according to Baltimore County officials, which prompted Olszewski’s thorough investigation.
The “first-of-its-kind” work group will travel from the east to the west side of the county, acquiring community input from residents during listening sessions, examining policing practices to ultimately give better transparency and accountability to law enforcement.
Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt believes that any opportunity that she and her colleagues have to bring the community together and “just listen” to residents’ concerns is really important.
“The way to make our communities safer is for the police in the community to have the best relationship possible. We need to figure out the things we need to work on as a group and we need to start working on them,” Hyatt said.
Essex resident Cassandra Brown, a Baltimore County school teacher, stood before the workgroup and delivered some of her own recommendations. One of those recommendations is for Baltimore County police officers to form a better relationship with African-American males.
“The demographics have changed tremendously, but I would say that some young people see police within school in a more antagonistic relationship instead of a friendly type of relationship,” Brown said. “I would recommend that even though we have a police presence in the schools, I think that relationship could be a lot better.”
Brown said that she sees the members of the workgroup as professionals, but only one of those members is from this community, that person being Crystal Francis, who was selected for the workgroup in 2019.
“It would be nice to have more individuals like myself that actually live in the community and see things going on in the community,” Brown said. “One of the other things I would like to see is making sure we have oversight for gang-related incidents.”
Baltimore County Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Troy Williams said the bottomline point of the listening session is to hear from the community and to understand what their needs are with respect to public safety.
“The perspectives and experiences of Baltimore County residents are mostly important, so that as we move forward in our work we can take that into consideration,” Williams said.
As the work group travels from east to west Baltimore County, there are similarities between citizens’ issues, according to Baltimore County’s Deputy Administrative Officer Drew Vetter.
Dundalk resident, Linwood Jackson said he specifically chose to raise his family in Turners Station due to the great environment it used to be, but he believes the citizens are policed as a group instead of individually.
“The police have to establish a relationship with the community, with the people that live in the communities. The people have to engage with the police,” Jackson said.
Turner Station Conservation Team member Larry Bannerman expressed that he would like to see law enforcement on bike patrol in the summer and more diversity in the Baltimore County Police Department.
Turner Station Conservation Team president Gloria Nelson said it would be more helpful if information about things that will impact the community would get out sooner, not at the last minute.
“What would really be helpful if the teams themselves, when they come into the community, to know who the points of contact are to get information to the community,” Nelson said.
Nelson went on to express her concerns about drug dealers and why it takes so long for them to be taken off the streets, having more officers that look like the communities they serve and requiring officers out of their cars and back on the streets, getting to know the citizens they police.
Ultimately, Williams and Baltimore County officials would like to see outcomes that don’t reflect what is believed to be the county’s disparities.
“On the surface we want to at least understand the outcomes that we’re achieving and then be able to stand behind those because we know that we’re delivering equitable policing services and the community knows that we’re delivering equitable policing services,” Williams said.