In an effort to address growing tensions between police departments and the communities they serve, some departments are turning to new ways of community outreach in hopes of rebuilding trust that’s been lost.
Kelly Fenner at the Baltimore County Police Department has taken on a new role for the department. It’s a position created in hopes of reestablishing trust between the department and the community. Her title: Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.
As a Black woman in law enforcement, this 30-year veteran of the force says she has a unique perspective on the current state of affairs.
“It put me in a unique position because I see both sides. My being a Black woman in a community that’s been underrepresented and underserved for so long,” she said.
The City of Baltimore and its surrounding counties have long had a painful, complicated history rooted in racism and conflict. Fenner’s job is to work to repair that fragile relationship between the police and the community.
“We’re just looking for progression, not perfection,” she added.
So, how does a police department work to rebuild trust right now? In Baltimore County, they’re starting inside the department by deploying various kind of empathy training.
“We have to start looking at ourselves in the mirror before we can change how we’re perceived outside the agency,” Fenner said.
Community outreach is also a pivotal part of Fenner’s job. Over the course of the past few months, she’s hosted various candid community conversations. Most are hosted online because of COVID-19, but the idea is for officers in the department to be able to listen to residents and understand what they’re thinking and feeling.
“This is a slow burn, nothing happens overnight. We did not get here overnight and it’s going to take time for that to change,” she said.