BALTIMORE – When Baltimore Police Chief Michael Tussey received an email asking him to visit the White House, he dismissed it as a scam. Then came another email explaining he had been chosen to discuss law enforcement with the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “I thought, ‘Are you sure you have the right Baltimore? This is Ohio, not Maryland,’” he said.
But, it was true, and Aug. 16 Tussey visited the White House with other law enforcement officers from around the nation.
In an effort to strengthen trust between law enforcement agencies and their communities, President Obama launched the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, designed to identify best practices and develop meaningful solutions to help law enforcement agencies and communities strengthen trust and collaboration, while ushering the nation into the next phase of community-focused policing. In May 2015, the Task Force released a report with 59 recommendations for reform.
In June of this year, in cooperation with the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the White House began to host a series of briefings with local law enforcement agencies to help agencies learn how to implement the Task Force’s recommendations.
Each week, nearly 100 police officers of all ranks visited the White House and heard about topics such as implicit bias, officer safety and wellness, and using social media to improve public trust with the communities they serve. In addition, the officers received information on how to join the President’s Police Data Initiative, a community of practice that enables police departments to collect and publish data on policing activities with the hope of beginning a dialogue within their community.
Among other subjects dis- cussed, Tussey said a college professor was brought in to talk about biased-based thinking. “That was probably the most discussed issue that was brought up,” he said.
Tussey said the professor explained that everyone has a bias, possibly without even realizing it, which is why some officers may react differently to minorities. “I disagreed with probably 80 percent of what he said,” Tussey said. He said when he’s pulling over a vehicle at 3 a.m., he has no idea of the driver’s gender, race, religion, orientation, or anything; he’s simply stopping a vehicle that doesn’t appear to be obeying traffic laws. Tussey said people may indeed harbor some type of intrinsic bias, but that doesn’t mean the person will act on that bias.
Tussey said the most enjoyable and informative part of the visit for him was meeting the other officers from across the nation. He said he spoke to an officer who was present in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., where a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, sparking waves of angry protests. Tussey said the officer told him people were afraid to go outside and businesses were being damaged in the anger.
Tussey said in a national climate where it’s easy to call out police officers, the last thing he wants for Baltimore, Ohio is for any type of wedge to come between the police department and the community. “We have a very open door policy,” he said. “We need to work together.”
Tussey said he was disappointed the presenters during the Washington DC conference didn’t offer many solutions to problems, as opposed to explaining they exist, but he’s still very glad he attended. If anything, Tussey said the experience made him think more about finding solutions at home in the Village of Baltimore.
Nationally speaking, and with absolutely no disrespect to our armed forces, Tussey said the number of law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty-including premeditated ambushes on officers this year in Dallas and Baton Rouge – significantly exceeds the number of soldiers who die in the line of duty. “We’re seeing multiple officers killed,” he said.
And, even though Baltimore, Ohio is a small village, it doesn’t mean his officers are out of harm’s way. In fact, he said a person recently attacked two Baltimore officers with a butcher knife. As a rule, Tussey said, officers tend to be in more danger in rural settings. Reason being, “It could be 20 minutes before I get help,” he said. Tussey said when he was a Westerville officer, all had to do was push a button and back-up officers would surround him almost immediately. Not so in rural areas, where there is more distance between fewer officers.
Tussey said the local DARE program and assigning an officer to the schools has significantly reduced crime in Baltimore. “We’ve literally crushed our juvenile crime,” he said. Tussey said when he first became Baltimore’s police chief, juvenile crime in the village was rampant. He said since the DARE program was implemented students have learned that officers are approachable people and often local juveniles won’t commit crime because they don’t want to offend their DARE officer. “The prevention of a criminal act is far more important than apprehending the perpetrator,” Tussey said. “The bottom line is, you have to be true to your community.”
Tussey said the president was scheduled to meet with the officers at the White House, but had a last minute schedule change and wasn’t able to do so. But, “the White House staff was completely professional,” he said. Staffers who felt bad about the president’s change in schedule took the officers on an extensive White House tour, which Tussey enjoyed. He said the Task Force on 21st Century Policing reports directly to the president and regardless of any political preferences, he sincerely appreciated contributing to the president’s cause. “It’s kind of a big honor,” Tussey said.