BY KRISSI HUMBARD — Residents gathered for a “Community Conversation” with the Hyattsville City Police Department (CPD) to air concerns, give praise and hear updates about what the department is doing to reach out and bridge “the gap” between residents and officers.
The conversation was held at First United Methodist Church on Aug. 11. It was the first in a series of four community-building conversations with residents, to be held in local churches. About 40 residents and 15 officers and city officials attended.
If the conversation could be summed up in one sentence, it would be: We need to work together.
CPD Chief Douglas Holland began by citing some of the recent, national incidents involving police and said, “the levels of trust and the levels of partnerships have really, really gotten to a low level that we all, as a group, need to work on.”
Chief Holland talked about “the gap” between police and the communities they serve, saying “the main reason for being here tonight is for you to meet our officers, to get to know them in a non-enforcement situation, and to be able to just have a conversation.”
He spoke about how he and Mayor Candace Hollingsworth were invited, along with about 35 other jurisdictions, to a meeting at the White House to discuss the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The mayor and council have since formally adopted the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing as a guide for community-focused policing in Hyattsville.
Chief Holland went on to highlight some of the things the police department and city government already do to bolster their relationship with the public. The police open house, National Night Out Against Crime, Shop with a Cop, the department’s ride-along program, the citizen’s police academy, coffee with a cop, the school resource program, Neighborhood Watch, the numerous block parties that occur in the city that officers attend, and now these community conversations — all offer an opportunity to interact with police as people.
Along with the many events and programs, Chief Holland said the police department has adopted procedures to “try to increase our accountability and transparency.” The Police and Public Safety Citizens Advisory Committee, which provides advisement and feedback on issues related to community policing and public safety, was established in October. CPD has been conducting a body camera trial program that now has funding and the department will be issuing body cameras to every officer “very shortly,” he said. The department is also working to put more information on its policies and statistics online.
Chief Holland also spoke about training programs — some of which the department has never done before. All of the officers in the department have gone through a training called Fair and Impartial Policing, which places attention on acknowledging bias and working to recognize it so it doesn’t impact how an officer responds to a situation. All officers have also gone through Verbal Defense and Influence training, which has a focus on verbal de-escalation.
In their call for comments, both the mayor and the police chief asked attendees to be honest and straightforward and “tell us like it is” — and residents obliged.
There was a wide range of concerns raised by residents, including: more bike/foot patrols in neighborhoods; officer conduct and actions — speeding, approaching a vehicle with a hand on their gun or standing with a hand resting on their gun holster; frequent parties and drug activity; which agency to call and when; multiple cars parked on the street, blocking residents’ parking; officer retention with the department; “escalating violence” in West Hyattsville; outreach to the Spanish-speaking community; activities for school-aged youth in the summer.
One woman who lives just outside Hyattsville but has a Hyattsville address, spoke about two encounters with county police, one involving a call she made to police and one incident when police came to her door but she had not called them. “I want police to respond to the needs of the community and not presume things about what the needs are,” she said.
Another frustrated resident complained about the constant line of cars blocking her street and the lack of response she had received from police, parking enforcement and other city officials. “Enough is enough,” she said.
Chief Holland and other officers addressed each concern raised, took notes, and asked for those residents with specific complaints to speak with an officer and share more information after the meeting.
Chief Holland urged residents to call the police whenever they see anything suspicious, at the time the incidents occur and each time it happens. “Call all the time, call often. As many times as it is happening, we will keep responding.”
Cpl. James Denault followed up, saying, “We’re here 24 hours a day, seven days a week … every day of every year, we’re here. … Call. Call, call, call, call, call. … We are here to work for you.”
On the topic of outreach to the Spanish-speaking community, Chief Holland said that was “improving.” He spoke about recruiting specifically for Spanish-speakers and the bonus available for Spanish-speaking officers and city employees who are hired. He also noted that there is bilingual representation in each department. But he added, “we’re aware that we need to do better.”
While answering the question about officer retention, Chief Holland spoke about the competition for officers among the other city, university, county and federal agencies in the area. He talked about the standards of the department and the hiring process that involves, among other steps, two sets of interviews. He also announced the brand-new process for the first interview, which will now include at least one civilian as an interviewer.
Chief Holland ended by stressing the need for partnership. “This is not something that our police officers can do by themselves. It’s a three-legged stool: It has to be the police, it has to be elected officials, and it has to be you, the community. If any one of those pieces are missing, it ain’t gonna work, folks.”
Others in attendance agreed.
Bob Ross, the president of the Prince George’s County NAACP branch, said, “We’re in this together.” He went on to say he was pleased with the meeting and called it “the first step in establishing [a] good community relationship.”
A resident who spoke about going out to talk to young, homeless black men who hang out near her apartment complex said it wasn’t just police that needed to do something. “The community needs to get involved. … We need to participate.”
Col. Stephen Walker, Edmonston Chief of Police, said, “We can’t work without our community working with us, as a partnership.”
The next “Community Conversation” will be held Sept. 8 at First Baptist Church of Hyattsville at 7 p.m.