AMBLER -- Fourteen police chiefs have joined with representatives of educational institutions and community partners to sign a Community Outreach Engagement Plan for Montgomery County to address race-related discrimination and bias.
The plan, a project of the NAACP Ambler Branch, is a unified agreement between police, community partners, and Ambler’s Criminal Justice Committee.
A brainchild of NAACP Ambler Branch President Carmina Taylor, the plan includes policies which address perceived implicit bias among police leaders and officers and assessments of those biases via data collection protocols.
Overall goals include an enhancement of social awareness, civic engagement, and community-police relations through cooperation, support, education, and open dialogue.
The plan was discussed and signed at a meeting organized by Taylor and held at Ambler’s American Legion Post on November 14.
Officials noted that the community’s ability to diversify local police forces, particularly among departmental chiefs, will be an enduring metric of the plan’s success.
Officials noted that the logistical and planning phases for the plan’s full implementation will be ongoing, with an initial launch in January 2020. Progress reviews will be conducted every six months.
By the evening’s conclusion, the plan garnered the signatures of 14 police chiefs and three representatives on behalf of NOBLE, Delta, and Lincoln University.
“We want to interact with the NAACP to broaden the diversity of our individual departments,” Hatfield Township Chief of Police William Tierney said. “The overall purpose is to be able to have better, more representative departments within our communities.”
Legal rights education was cited as a means to engage local youth.
“It’s important for teens to know what their rights are, if they can be searched by police, and what sort of high-risk behaviors are out there,” Upper Dublin Township Chief of Police Francis Wheatley said. “We didn’t used to have interactions with the students of Upper Dublin. It was that way for years, but a new superintendent has let us in, and it’s been very successful. I’m most proud of a program called Law & Consequences.”
Montgomery County’s Youth Aid Panel (YAP), a restorative justice program offered by the District Attorney’s Office, has taken steps to provide youth with opportunities to maintain a clear criminal record and stay out of juvenile detention centers.
“We’re going to work on the YAP program and advocate,” Diane Burgess, Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, said. “It’s a very big task, and it’s going to take all of us. There’s a 10-1 black-to-white ratio in (juvenile detention) centers, even though our county is predominantly white. Most of the youth in juvenile detention centers have IEPs or special needs, or both. They aren’t being taught. They come out of those centers and they’ll often have to repeat a grade.”
Dean Beer, Montgomery County Chief Public Defender, agreed.
“The YAP Program offers the children of Montgomery County a chance. I would ask that you try to bring more children of color into these programs,” Beer said.
The Community Outreach Engagement Plan targets the public school system as well. Police and active community leaders provide outreach to K-5 students through Junior Police Academies. Grades 6-8 will partner with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE), an outfit which provides hands-on law enforcement awareness and de-escalation tactics training.
High school students will receive mentoring and guidance through participation with the Delta Family Service, LLC and the Supervised Independent Living (SIL) Program, which utilizes the experience of former law enforcement officials to expose students to potential employment opportunities in local police departments.
Young adults will partner with the Criminal Justice Department at Lincoln University, through which police officers and branch volunteers will visit law enforcement classes to deliver onboarding guidance and support.
“The opportunity to bridge academics and policy, research and practice is important because we’re a data-driven society,” Dr. Michael Pass, Assistant Professor of Sociology & Criminal Justice at Lincoln University, said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to have my students become educators and officers. You want to have them bring their education into the workplace.”
“My greatest hope is that we will have enlightened and engaged segments of our community regarding biases in policing,” Taylor said. “My goal is that we will have reached all four school district communities by the end of 2020.”
“The effectiveness of the plan is its comprehensiveness,” Taylor said. “It attempts to reach out to every demographic in our community. That’s never been before.”
“The coming together of police executives and the NAACP to develop sustainable practices in the area is phenomenal. This aggregation of community is what true community policing is all about,” Anthony Floyd, former police commander at Lincoln University, said. “Thank you for coming together to listen to the community.”