Published on: Monday, September 28, 2020 News Alert

Message to the Community from Chief DeVaul

 

Chief Antonio DeVaul

I feel it is important to continue reaching out to the community to address the incidents occurring across the country and clarify what we are doing here in Takoma Park. The negative national incidents involving police across our country have affected the way all police are viewed by some. We are not immune to the concerns and effects here in Takoma Park. I wanted to share some of the things we are doing here in Takoma Park so the public would have a better understanding of our police services in Takoma Park.

Over the past three years, we have refocused the culture of the police department from a warrior mentality to a guardian approach.

  • This involved changing the evaluation/reward system to emphasize community engagement and problem-solving, rather than arrests and citations.
  • We have moved away from focusing on low-level drug offenses and other non-quality-of-life offenses and now are focused on serious crime and quality of life issues.
  • We have also refocused our community outreach programs and engagement with our youth. Programs such as our Homework Club, Youth Explorer program, Community Academy, Coffee with a Cop, National Night Out and other community engagement programs have helped strengthen the bond between our staff and the community.

This outreach has been a struggle during the global pandemic. However, we are doing our best to stay engaged via zoom and other social network platforms.

We have adjusted our operational policies to reflect best practices. For example, our use of force policies are in line with recommended best practices. See my message on #8CANTWAIT. Just as important as having good policies is the need to ensure those policies are followed and holding those accountable for violating policy.

  • All of our officers wear body-worn cameras as well as have video recording devices in their vehicles. This allows encounters with the public to be recorded and reviewed should an issue arise and for training purposes.
  • We are also reinforcing the duty to intervene for all of our staff. We are committed to holding officers accountable for actions that are inconsistent with the values of our police department and community.

Besides the extensive training our officers receive, all of our officers will be going through the Active Bystander for Law Enforcement Training sponsored by the Georgetown University Law/Shepard Mullin ABLE Project.

We have expanded our recruiting efforts to be more effective in attracting people of color, and women. We now have a diverse workforce that mirrors the demographics of the city as a whole. Staff in our police department speak six different languages, with twelve fluent in Spanish. Not only do we have a diverse workforce, but we also have staff that wants to be here for the right reasons.

We welcome the upcoming review by the public safety task force created by the City Council. It is long overdue that we take a holistic review of our public safety model. This involves more than police; it involves mental health professionals, housing, education, employment, courts, and our incarceration system. Police alone cannot solve this issue. We welcome having mental health professionals on staff or under contract to help respond to the mental health crisis, as well as follow up with victims. We will soon be putting together a request for a pilot program that involves having mental health professionals on staff to address mental health issues.

We have a progressive police department. That being said, we are always open to finding ways that we can better serve our community. As we move forward with the review of what the best public safety model is for Takoma Park, I ask that you not judge our police department by the actions of others but by our actions. I can assure you we are doing all we can to instill a culture that is inclusive, transparent, respectful, and responsive. We want to work with you on this because this our community and we are all in this together!

We are always open to ideas and input on how we can provide equal and equitable service to all of our community members. Have suggestions? Please send them to me at tonyd@takomaparkmd.gov.