Dialogue Session with Frostburg City Police
The Frostburg City Police Department participated in an open dialogue session on Tuesday, October 28th. Both students and community members were welcomed to attend this dialogue hosted by Dr. Ruminski’s Intercultural Communication class in the CCIT building. Approximately 30 to 40 people sat in a circle of chairs, the majority of which were students, a few members of the local NAACP branch, and three law enforcement figures. Of the law enforcement officers, the most prominent was Frostburg City Police Chief Douty, who sat next to Frostburg City Lieutenant Donnaugh, and Cumberland Police Officer Greg Leak.
The dialogue began with Dr. Ruminski and Tara Taylor, a representative from the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR), led the discussion, laying down a few ground rules. The rules that were established promoted respect and open mindedness, and were adhered to by all for the duration of the dialogue session. To start, each person had to share their name and a community that they felt that they belonged to.
The first question posed by Tara Taylor, the mediator, was, “What recent current events, or local events, make you realize the importance of police-community relations?” This question was answered by several students with varying responses. One student referred to the controversial death of Michael Brown and the ensuing riots in Ferguson. Another student complained about the over-vigilance of Frostburg Police in their alcohol policies and their intimidating presence at student events in the Lane Center. The student, who was African-American, believed that there were racially motivated reasons for this. A couple of students praised the job done by the police, and one of them cited the multiple reported break-ins last year and how the thieves were arrested, stopping the burglaries. Yet, another negative comment made by a student was in reference to the sexual assault charges that had been brought against former FSU Officer Jarrett Warnick.
After many different students gave their opinions, the law enforcement officers then were given the opportunity to respond. Officer Greg Leak with the Cumberland Police Department replied first to the Warnick case and said, “[The Frostburg Police] weren’t hiding any details. All we can do is make the arrest.” He went on to say that the majority of police officers are good officers and that the mistakes made by one officer should not define the entirety of a department. “Police have a tough job,” said Officer Leak, “I don’t know you, but I’d give my life for you.”
After responding initially to the Warnick case, Officer Leak then went on to comment on complaint of racial biasness of law enforcement. “Race relations are slowly improving,” said Officer Leak, “but they are nowhere where they need to be.”
Lieutenant Donnaugh then replied to the complaint of overzealous enforcement of alcohol and parties. Lieutenant Donnaugh said, “We have a strict risk management policy and that is for your safety. We look at potential problems.”
The next question that was asked towards students and community members was, “What can be done to help improve police-community relations?”
One African-American woman who lived in the community offered a suggestion that student organization leaders should meet with the police officers who will be overseeing the student event, before and afterwards. By doing this, the students will know what acceptable behavior is, and if there happened to be a problem at the event, then cooperatively the student leaders and police officers can figure out a way to prevent another incident in the future.
Another suggestion made was to increase the transparency of the Frostburg City Police. I made this suggestion and mentioned how it is was easy to get ahold of the FSU Police Chief Cynthia Smith, but near-impossible to reach Chief Douty for an interview. It was also mentioned that Chief Smith regularly sends out mass emails to FSU students and faculty; why does the city police not follow suite?
To this Chief Douty apologized for not responding to my emails. He had seen them, but was very busy due to the small size of the department, and the large size of the surrounding community. “I really only got 16 police officers,” said Chief Douty, “I’ve been understaffed since I’ve been here. I try to put all my people out at night time.” After the dialogue, he approached me and agreed to do an interview, and gave me him personal email address.
Students, community members, and the law enforcement officers all agreed that this open dialogue was a step in the right direction.
“I want everyone to be safe in Frostburg,” said Chief Douty.
Picture taken by Andrew Richardson.