Could what happened in Minneapolis, happen in Frederick? Could there have been a George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, or Breonna Taylor in our city?
While nationwide protests spotlight police departments far and wide, Frederick has its own ugly history of police conduct it must face. Today, one could debate local law enforcement has tamed and restored its good standing. Black and brown accounts of brutal police stops stay in the family and are passed down through generations as folklore. Hearing stories of fathers and grandfathers being harassed and mistreated by the Sheriff’s Office and local police department is a right of passage for black children born in Frederick; many are taught how to navigate police encounters during childhood — a story that is the same for black children of America.
Rolando Bass has been pulled over more than 30 times in the last 4 years as a Frederick resident by both Frederick Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office alike. Bass is a black man who drives a Mercedes-Benz and documents his experience on Youtube.
Frederick resident Jason Childs was pulled over by Frederick Police Department for failing to stop at the white line. Childs recorded the encounter and was asked to step out of the car. In the video, police called the K-9 unit to search the vehicle. Childs was asking the officer why he had to step out of the vehicle, to which the officer could not answer. The officer pulled Childs out of the car and threatened to have the K-9 bite Childs for failure to comply.
[READ: Everything But Shot.]
Abraham Arellano was shot and killed by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office in front of his home in Thurmont last year. Police were called to the home to investigate a breaking and entering and apprehended an armed, suicidal Arellano. He was pronounced dead at the scene. It was later determined Arellano was the 911 caller. Details surrounding his death are still being investigated.
“Black lives do matter but every life in this county matters.” – Sheriff Chuck Jenkins
Earlier this month, Kavonte Duckett organized a peaceful protest to the Sheriff’s Department, making the first steps towards local police reform. Duckett previously ran for Frederick County Council and has continued his activism and political run thereafter. The protest was met with controversy online as “blue life” supporters viewed the march as meddling and unnecessary; Jenkins denounced the protesters and community leaders because they rejected a private setting for dialogue and believed he was not given a fair chance to address the crowd. Duckett responded to these views on his platform.
His statement reads:
Two hours before our protest at the Sheriff’s Office, I received a phone call from the MD State Police explaining Sheriff Chuck Jenkins‘ plan for our arrival. The officer stated that when we arrived on the property the Sheriff would come out and invite Aje Hill and me in for a sit down. Afterward, he would come back out to address the crowd.
A lot of folks are quick to say: “this was a missed opportunity.” I’d respectfully disagree. Every table prepared doesn’t deserve us taking a seat. The Sheriff was given a list of questions last week and still wasn’t able to provide us with the information requested. During yesterday’s protest the Sheriff was given ample time to answer questions and was not overpowered. The bottom line is he didn’t want us there and deflected most questions. After multiple pleas asking the Sheriff to address the crowd and speak from his heart, he uttered these words: “Black Lives do Matter BUT every life in this county matters.”
Many of you have asked what’s next. For starters, we’re calling for accountability and transparency from the Sheriff. He has gone unchecked for far too long. We’ve requested specific data from the FCSO and, once received, we will lay out next steps.
The live video of the protest is below:
Duckett and Jenkins have a tense history. Last year, two black teenagers were charged with the death of a white man. Duckett expressed his concerns about the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of the case in an open letter to the Mayor and criticized Jenkins’ mismanagement. Read an excerpt from the letter below:
Both the safety of these young boys, their family, and those members of our community who will attend the upcoming trial in support of is paramount. As a result, this letter serves as a firm request for the Office of the Mayor to show its support for a fair and impartial trial and the safety of the citizens of Frederick County involved at the October 22nd trial date by:
Publicly denouncing any bigoted hate groups from interfering with or attempting to generate fear mongering before, during, or after the October 22nd trial date.
Publicly naming and reprimanding Sheriff Chuck Jenkins on prematurely and irresponsibly labeling the fair incident a hate crime, which consequently ignited a plethora of hateful commentary and violent threats from sectors of the Frederick Community causing fear and uneasiness within Frederick’s African-American Community.
[READ: The Frederick Fair Fight]
Unlike the Frederick Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office does not publicize an annual Complaints report or Use of Force report. Frederick residents have no way of knowing which Sheriffs have complaints, how many they might have, or any resolutions thereafter unless subpoenaed or court ordered. Its annual report includes statistics for various units including narcotics, search warrants, missing and exploiting children and more.
According to the Frederick Police’ Use of Force report, the department noted “no troubling trends based on any particular characteristic of race, sex, or ethnicity.” However, the numbers show gender and racial disparities exist. In 2019, men were subjected to use of force more than women and black men experienced the most force overall. (Frederick Police Department, 2019)
The protest organizers requested answers from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Police Department on the following information:
The racial makeup of the FCSO/FCPD.
Data on use of force cases, broken down by race.
Data on stops, broken down by race.
Data on racial breakdown of false drug scans.
What de-escalation tactics are used?
What racial bias training is provided and how often? If not, why?
Do you have training to mitigate racial bias within the force?
Are body cameras and dashboard cameras on during all stops? If no, why not?
Citizens awaited responses from Sheriff Jenkins and his agency to take the next steps towards reform. For many, it is the beginning of redemption.
Today, these numbers have been provided. The Sheriff’s Office report was authored by Lieutenant Gregg Warner from the Office of Policy and Compliance. It shows that black Frederick residents experienced two times as many traffic citations and three times as many field interviews although they account for 10% of the general population in the county. (The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, 2020) Field interviews are the informal questioning of a potential suspect in a crime. Officers must have reasonable suspicion to perform interviews such as the person carrying a suspicious object, behaving suspiciously, is in an area where a crime was recently committed or if officers know the suspect has a prior criminal record.
[READ: Sheriff’s Office Report 2019]
93% of the department is white. Officers do not wear body cams or have dashboard footage during traffic stops and did not offer a plan on future implementation.
Findings show there is work to be done. Though local law enforcement contests any problematic trends in its conduct, the people of Frederick tell a different story. The time is now.
Calls to Action:
You can call Jan Gardner, the Frederick County Executive, right now at 301-600-3190, and request that she reallocate a portion of the $35 million Sheriff’s Office budget to mental health workers, abuse counselors, social workers, and teachers. #defundthepolice
You can call Mayor Michael O’Connor right now at 301-600-1184 and request that he reallocate a portion of the city police budget to mental health workers, abuse counselors, social workers, and teachers. #getinvolvedlocally
Frederick Police Department. (2019). 2019 Use of Force Annual Report (pp. 5-6, Rep.). Frederick, MD: Professional Services Division.
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. (2020). 2019 Annual Administrative Review (pp. 1-14, Rep.). Frederick, MD: Office of Policy and Compliance.
*Video footage and calls to action courtesy of JB Dunn.