In response to recent headlines about offensive social-media posts by law-enforcement officers, the Ambler branch of the NAACP teamed up with chiefs from 13 police departments to facilitate open dialogue between concerned residents and police staff in Montgomery County.
Titled the United Front Press Conference, a forum which included school district leaders, children, and parents, took place Monday evening at the Ambler American Legion Post. After opening public statements on behalf of the NAACP and the Police Chiefs Association, members of the community were given the opportunity to voice their questions, concerns, and ideas for the future.
According to Carmina Taylor, Ambler Branch NAACP president, two themes stood out: police bias training and the diversification of local forces.
“The chiefs acknowledged that implicit biases are out there, and that’s huge,” Taylor said. “We want to do implicit and explicit bias training from a civil rights perspective.”
“Many of our police departments have undergone the rigorous scrutiny of State Accreditation, through which the highest standards of our profession are met,” Police Chief William Tierney, Hatfield Township, said in an opening statement. “We’re pleased to be a part of this initiative. It’s a new opportunity to be interactive with a whole new group of people. We look forward to our collaboration going forward.”
To address future recruitment diversity, a former corporate recruiter and a former Lower Gwynedd police officer have volunteered to be involved with an existing working group made up of police chiefs and criminal justice committee members. To move the process along, Taylor anticipates a recruiting fair sometime in the spring, along with a follow-up meeting on November 14.
“We need to provide resources and information to allow more people to take the police exam,” Taylor, who was elected to the post in December 2018, said. “That’s going to be our focus between now and November, at which point we’ll unveil our community agreement. The agreement will detail bias training, MOUs with school districts, and social media policies. We need to examine each of those.”
For Police Chief Francis Wheatley, Upper Dublin Township, collaboration matters.
“What we took away from the meeting is that we as a group have to work together,” Wheatley said. “We can’t be a single department trying to take on bigger issues. Ms. Taylor covers multiple jurisdictions. There was a lot of input from different chiefs from different communities, and we had residents who spoke very highly about the efforts of the police department to build rapport and collaborate.”
“I want to give the chiefs credit,” Taylor said. “They fielded questions from the community for over an hour. I don’t think that’s ever been done before. They want continued dialogue, and they encouraged attendees to bring more residents to the November meeting.”
“I think it was an authentic press conference conversation with the community,” she said. “We’re hoping that what we’re doing will ultimately be received by the Police Chiefs Association, which represents the entire county.”
“The chiefs give Ms. Taylor a lot of credit for spearheading the campaign. If residents have concerns about interactions with law enforcement, we want residents to call and tell us about it,” Wheatley said. “Ultimately, the chiefs are accountable for their respective forces. We want to make sure that we’re doing our job correctly.”