Letter to the Editor: On Crime and Police Transparency in Frostburg
The following letter to the editor is sent from Andrew Richardson, a Frostburg State University alumnus who reported for The Bottom Line. Currently, he is a crime and courts reporter for the Maryland Independent in Charles County, MD.
As a concerned alum of Frostburg State University and a former reporter at The Bottom Line, I feel compelled to write, this time without the burden of objectivity. After spending four years at FSU, I graduated in May 2015. Since then, I have remained in close contact with many friends who still attend.
Here’s the general consensus from their perspective: At night, people don’t feel safe off-campus anymore.
And after visiting a few weekends ago, I agree.
My friends and I couldn’t walk from Bowery Street to Main Street on a Friday night without a car full of men stopping to heckle and insult us for absolutely no reason. This occurred on Wood Street.
Around the same time, I noticed a party getting out of control nearby, next to the infamous house with the collapsed roof. I saw a young woman, who clearly wanted to fight someone inside the party, being held back by a group of her friends.
While I hope my experience isn’t typical, I’m under the impression that it is.
FSU Police Chief Cynthia Smith said recently that crime in Frostburg is down, pointing to FBI Uniformed Crime Report data from 2014. Though, I do commend Chief Smith for always being available for comment and frequently sending out university-wide emails to keep people in the loop.
Now, let’s talk about former FSU officer Jarrett Devon Warnick, 44, who was charged in 2014 for allegedly coercing sex acts from a student while on-duty with his firearm holstered, according to the victim and multiple reports. Warnick’s case was placed on stet-docket after entering a plea agreement in which he would cooperate in a state investigation in similar alleged sexual misconduct with the FSU police department. That investigation yielded no arrests, as there was not enough evidence for the state to file charges. Essentially, Warnick will get off scot-free as long as he doesn’t reoffend within three years. The prosecutors that brokered that plea agreement should be disbarred. From what I’ve read, it was Gina Cirincion of the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office who handled the case. But, who knows what goes on behind closed doors? I’m sure the Allegany State’s Attorney’s Office played some part in that, or other prosecutors from Washington County. Where is the justice?
Let’s talk about transparency, or lack thereof.
Frostburg City Police Chief Royce Douty couldn’t take the time to respond to “multiple requests for comment” from The Bottom Line. Good luck trying to reach him – On Oct. 28, 2014, when I was a crime reporter for The Bottom Line, I attended a community-police relations forum where students and community members were invited to engage in an open-dialogue with law enforcement officials. After I suggested that Frostburg City Police could be more transparent in front of the group of about 40 people, adding that I had tried several times via phone and email to reach Douty for an interview, he approached me afterwards, shook my hand, looked me in the eyes, apologized (he saw my emails, he said), and told me he would meet with me. Then, he gave me his contact information. I never heard from him again, despite my continued efforts. A professor told me then that that was the closest any of his students has gotten to an interview with Douty.
Currently, I work as a crime and courts reporter for the Maryland Independent newspaper in Charles County. I correspond with spokespeople of the Charles County Sheriff’s Office on a daily basis, and Sheriff Troy Berry is always just a phone call away for a sit-down interview. Berry manages the largest sheriff’s office in Maryland with over 600 sworn-officers and civilian employees, but somehow he finds the time to talk to the media.
In contrast, the Frostburg City Police is about as transparent as a brick wall. I’m sure Douty’s defense would be, (in a hypothetical world where he responds to the media) that they’re understaffed and don’t have the funding for a Public Information Officer.
Sounds like a cop out to me.
I would be interested to see what aggregate data Frostburg City Police has on violent crime from August to present, so we could put to rest any notions that Frostburg isn’t as safe as it used to be.
Or, I would like to see a university-wide survey in which students are asked how safe they feel on and off campus, and if applicable, compare those feelings to previous years.