A Movement to Strengthen Public Safety
This article was written by County Executive Steuart Pittman for a column in the Capital Gazette.
Black lives matter. End racism now. Don’t mess with our cops. Public safety is the most sacred obligation of government.
I’ve said all four of these things before and I’ll keep saying them, because I believe them. But this column isn’t about what I think. It’s about what our residents think, and it’s about how we move forward.
Our police chief resigned this week, leaving us with this ominous statement. “There is a movement in this nation and in this county to remove the teeth of the police. It is wrong and it will have grave and lasting effects that you will see and feel.”
I agreed with Chief Altomare about almost everything during his tenure in my administration. We shared a vision of progressive policing and the need for government to invest in social programs. We both understood that it is wrong to expect police officers to solve our community’s problems alone. We shared the view that our officers should receive not only respect, but also the compensation that is offered to their peers in nearby counties. Most importantly, we both understood the value of listening and learning from our constituents, whether we agree with them or not.
But I don’t agree with him that we have a movement in Anne Arundel County that threatens public safety. I believe that we have a movement in this county that will strengthen public safety. Here’s why.
Our protestors are not asking us to dismantle our police department. Every in-person and online event that I’ve attended on the topic has included praise for good policing and scorn for bad policing. Every speech from Chief Altomare at academy graduations has included the same distinction.
Our protestors want transparency and they want justice. They want body worn cameras, thorough investigations, good training, and community engagement. Those are the kinds of things that local government, at least our local government, seeks to deliver to the taxpayers who fund it every day in every agency.
I plan to deliver on these things.
The comprehensive body worn camera program is fast-tracked and will be implemented with community and police union engagement. Choke-hold ban language is under review by the Office of Law. An investigation of the recent Daniel Jarrells incident will take place with as much civilian engagement as the law allows. A draft report titled Policing in Anne Arundel County: Policies, Progress, and Plans will be available for public review and comment before the end of August.
I also plan to deliver for our officers. I’ve joined all of our academy graduations and all of our Polar Bear Plunges since taking office, and can tell you that we are training very good public servants. I stood next to Chief Altomare just this week as he pinned the badge on each new graduate. To many, his final words were, “Be good to people.”
If we want our officers to be good to people, we have to be good to our officers. Of course there will be some who make mistakes, and they’ll need to be corrected. If current statistics hold, there will also be five or so each year who don’t belong in this line of work, and we’ll send them on their way. We’d like that number to drop as our screening and our training improves.
I’ll never experience life as a person of color and I’ll never experience life as a police officer, but I’ve learned that both carry burdens that I as a white civilian do not. Both have been pressured to stay silent, and both are speaking up. If all of us listen well, we’ll end up in the place we all want to be.
My hope is that a year from now, and every year on the anniversary of Chief Altomare’s retirement, I can call him up and say, “I told you so, Chief. The movement of 2020 made a great Anne Arundel County Police Department even better.”