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Two police chiefs focus on building community trust
Two local police chiefs and four local ministers traveled to the nation's capital recently to discuss building trust and strong relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
"It was interesting, enlightening and worthwhile," Northern York County Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel said. "This was meant to accomplish something."
He and Springettsbury Township Police Chief Dan Stump were among 60 or 70 people that included law enforcement, religious leaders, doctors and national experts who spent Dec. 1 at the Department of Justice for its "Building Community Trust: Justice, Bias and Reconciliation" conference.
Also attending from York County were Pastor Paul Atkinson of Lives Changed By Christ Church/York campus; the Rev. Aaron Anderson, CEO of Logos Academy; the Rev. William S. Kerney, president of the Black Ministers Association of York County and pastor of Covenant Family Ministries; and Bishop Carl Scott of Bible Tabernacle Christian Center.
It was Stump's association with the Department of Justice that led to his invitation to the conference, and he in turn invited Bentzel.
Finding blind spots: About a year ago, Stump asked the DOJ's diagnostic center to partner with Springettsbury Township Police to identify its organizational blind spots and weaknesses. In February, the partnership was officially announced. And in November, the DOJ's findings were made public at a town hall meeting organized by Stump and attended by more than 70 people.
Justice Department officials contacted Stump about the Dec. 1 conference.
"(DOJ) actually reached out to me and said they'd love to have members of the York community involved," Stump said.
Like Bentzel, Stump had nothing but praise for the intensive, daylong program, which included speakers in the morning and problem-solving exercises in the afternoon.
"They split us up into groups and gave us scenarios we had to work through," Stump said. "It was outstanding."
Stump said discussions during the conference included the "four pillars" of procedural justice training, namely that people want to:
- Know their local police departments are listening to their opinions and concerns.
- Know their officers haven't prejudged them and have no biases
- Know their officers are concerned about citizens' civil rights
- Feel confident their police departments are transparent to the community.
"What it's really about is building relationships within the community, and certainly the faith-based portion of our community is a big part of that," Bentzel said. "It's about understanding the need to build these relationships before something critical occurs."
Work to do: Participants discussed implicit bias, which is a bias that's below a person's conscious awareness, as well as identity traps, marginalization of segments of the community and community trauma, he said.
"I think it shines a light on an area we need to work on — an area that we are weak on," Bentzel said, adding his department has begun forging relationships with the area's faith-based communities. He estimated there are at least 100 churches in the eight municipalities protected by Northern Regional Police.
Stump said he wants to share with his colleagues everything he and his officers are learning from the Department of Justice audit of Springettsbury Township Police.
"I'm pretty excited about where we're going and where York County is headed and the relationships we're building and the level of professionalism we're (striving for)," Stump said. "As we train our department, I've invited every chief (in York County) and their command staff to come and just listen in."
He said most police chiefs have expressed interest.
Stump said it all boils down to officers treating people with dignity and respect, and encouraging officers to act like humans and not like robots while on duty.
Officers who accomplish these goals make it safer and easier for their fellow officers in the future, he said.
"We've got to be transparent," Stump said, because without trust and transparency it won't be possible to forge deeper roots in the community.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.