HYATTSVILLE – In response to the tumultuous state of police-citizen relations across the country, the Hyattsville City Police Department looks to change how policing is done in the 21st century. Last Thursday, the department hosted its first of four “Community Conversation” discussions where Hyattsville residents were encouraged to address any and all issues they have […]
HYATTSVILLE – In response to the tumultuous state of police-citizen relations across the country, the Hyattsville City Police Department looks to change how policing is done in the 21st century.
Last Thursday, the department hosted its first of four “Community Conversation” discussions where Hyattsville residents were encouraged to address any and all issues they have with the police.
Several officers, residents and city and county officials were in attendance for the two-hour long discussion that highlighted many of the biggest issues facing departments today.
At the start of the discussion, Chief Douglas Holland had each one of his officers introduce themselves and sit with a resident in an effort to promote an environment in which residents felt comfortable airing their grievances.
“The level of trust between residents and police departments across this country is not real good right now,” Holland said. “Everybody needs to work to restore the levels of trust that we want to see.”
Thirty-year resident Irma Echeverria said in the past, Hyattsville police have been extremely responsive to specific issues she and her mother have faced. However, she expressed that over time, constant turnover within the department has led to less attentiveness to some issues and an appearance of increased crime in her neighborhood.
“I can tell you I do not recognize one police officer. This is important, I believe, because some of the issues are systemic and persist,” she said. “Why are we losing so many police officers so quickly? Why is there such a high turnover rate?”
In response to her question, Holland admitted that, currently, as opposed to after Sept. 11, 2001, becoming a police officer a lot less popular of a profession because of the heavy scrutiny officers are now placed under. Additionally, Holland said the department loses many officers to larger departments such as Prince George’s County, and they do not want to lower their standards when it comes to hiring for the sake of filling vacancies.
“There is a lot of competition for good, qualified police officers. We ask and we tell people we don’t want to be a stepping-stone,” Holland said. “If you want to work with us, we want you to basically tell us you’re here for a career.”
Echeverria also insisted the responsibility of encouraging officers to stay in Hyattsville falls on not only the department, but also city officials. Holland agreed with the sentiment and took it a step further, saying residents should also be involved.
As a result, he revealed the department will now have a Hyattsville resident participate in the interviewing of prospective officers before hiring as a way to ensure resident concerns are taken into consideration. With that, Holland handed Echeverria the program’s first business card for residents looking to participate.
Some residents raised questions regarding policing tactics when attempting to handle or deescalate situations. Resident Emily Button recalled a situation in which an expensive car was parked outside her home and police confronted her, assuming something was wrong.
“I want police to respond to the needs of the community, not presume things about what the needs are and preemptively move people along who are not doing anything wrong,” she said.
Mayor Candace Hollingsworth was in attendance and took to heart a question regarding police involvement with children in the community. She said she attended a similar community discussion in a neighboring city where someone asked why no children were in attendance for representation.
She said it’s important for children in Hyattsville to have as many positive encounters with police as possible in order to dispel the notion that police are only authority figures looking to punish them.
“We don’t have many opportunities to get youth voices on how we’re engaging,” Hollingsworth said. “A young person walking home from school shouldn’t feel like they have don’t have someone to call.”
Sgt. Suzie Johnson said she will be starting a program in which juveniles who commit small crimes or offenses will be given the opportunity to conduct community service instead of being booked and placed into the system. She said since they have up to a year and a day to be officially charged, giving them this opportunity will reinforce the idea of rehabilitation over punishment.
“They know they cannot get in trouble for a year and a day. If they do, the charges come back on them,” she said. “That should be effective for most of our children who make the minor, dumb mistakes children make from time to time.”
Hyattsville’s next Community Conversation will take place Sept. 8 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Hyattsville.