In the sher­iff’s of­fice, di­ver­sity is key to unity

Black of­fi­cers stand out lo­cally

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

Across the coun­try, cit­i­zens in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties may fear law en­force­ment — a con­cern fos­tered in re­cent years by na­tional re­ports of po­lice of­fi­cers us­ing deadly force against mi­nori­ties.

Be­cause of that, many mi­nor­ity-ma­jor­ity com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try stig­ma­tize po­lice. There is a per­cep­tion, Sher­iff Troy Berry (D) said, that po­lice de­part­ments do not rep­re­sent their com­mu­ni­ties racially and so­cially. But the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice wants to com­bat that.

Det. Master Cpl. Dor­rell Savoy said be­ing able to re­late to those in the com­mu­nity he serves plays a large part in what he is able to do. As a de­tec­tive, he said, crimes must be ex­am­ined to a “more de­tailed de­gree.” And part of that de­gree, he said, is get­ting cit­i­zens to open up about vic­tims, sus­pects and other key as­pects to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“You’ve got to have ut­most re­spect. There has to be a level of trust or un­der­stand­ing,” Savoy said.

As a black man, Savoy said, he never grew up fear­ful of law en­force­ment be­cause many mem­bers of his fam­ily were in­volved. And prior to be­com­ing a mem­ber of the sher­iff’s of­fice, he said, he served in the U.S. Air Force.

But still, he said, he has run into sit­u­a­tions where cit­i­zens have been ap­pre­hen­sive to speak or

in­ter­act with him be­cause of the stigma placed on polic­ing.

Last week, Savoy said, he pulled a woman over on a rou­tine stop with her 3-year-old son in the back of her car. She was ap­ply­ing makeup as she was driv­ing, he said.

She did not give Savoy any prob­lems, he said, and had an over­all “pos­i­tive in­ter­ac­tion” with him. How­ever, Savoy said, her son asked, “Is the po­lice of­fi­cer go­ing to shoot us?”

“That im­me­di­ately af­fected me,” he said. “She ad­dressed it, and I talked to the young man and I ex­plained that po­lice are there to help you. The mother re­ally ex­pressed her ap­pre­ci­a­tion for me do­ing that.”

The key, he said, is just show­ing young men and women of color that there are of­fi­cers that look like them and they are there to help.

Berry, who is Charles County’s first African-Amer­i­can sher­iff, said he makes it a point to know res­i­dents through­out lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. He worked in the of­fice for years prior to be­ing elected sher­iff, he said, and that’s when he took the time to build re­la­tion­ships.

“It’s hum­bling. Peo­ple have em­braced me as a young of­fi­cer and sher­iff in the same way,” Berry said.

Many peo­ple do not ex­pect to see a black sher­iff in town, but Berry said that is just part of the process of chang­ing per­cep­tions in the com­mu­nity. “We’re just work­ing hard here,” he said.

Ear­lier on Wed­nes­day, Berry gave cadets from the South­ern Mary­land Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Academy badges for the com­ple­tion of their pro­gram. But be­fore he gave them their badges, he said, he made them promise one thing.

“You have to be a good am­bas­sador,” Berry said. “Do not bring any dis­credit, on duty or off duty, to your pro­fes­sion or your agency.”

No mat­ter what an of­fi­cer looks like, Berry said, that as­pect of the job re­mains the same.

The sher­iff’s of­fice work­ing to fight an­ti­quated per­cep­tions about law en­force­ment does not stop with their rank­ing of­fi­cers. Ev­ery­one — from their civil­ian em­ploy­ees to their cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers — is part of it.

James Am­mons, a civil­ian em­ployee in the depart­ment’s tech­nol­ogy divi­sion, and Julie Young, a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer with 14 years ex­pe­ri­ence in the sher­iff’s of­fice, are both do­ing their part to give rise to the next wave of young peo­ple who want to help oth­ers.

As an African-Amer­i­can man, Am­mons said, there is an ageold per­cep­tion that black peo­ple do not like com­put­ers or math. But that per­cep­tion is dead, he said — and he is the em­bod­i­ment of it.

Am­mons is re­spon­si­ble for the com­puter sys­tems of 600 em­ploy­ees in the sher­iff’s of­fice, in­clud­ing the sys­tems in­stalled in po­lice cruis­ers. At any mo­ment, he could be called to fix a sys­tem in a cruiser, at the corrections fa­cil­ity in La Plata or in the sher­iff’s main head­quar­ters in La Plata. He han­dles 20 work or­ders on a daily ba­sis, he said.

“I take my job very se­ri­ously. If some­thing goes wrong, that puts that par­tic­u­lar of­fi­cer’s life in dan­ger,” he said.

Math has never been a strug­gle for Am­mons, he said. There were mo­ments when it was chal­leng­ing, he said, once he got to col­lege, but he main­tained his grades and im­proved.

The same goes with com­put­ers for him, he said. Though the tech­nol­ogy is al­ways chang­ing, he keeps up.

“When I was a se­nior at Lackey High School and I went into the CISCO pro­gram, I was one of half a dozen black kids in the pro­gram,” Am­mons said. “I was good at math, or at least I thought I was.”

All it takes is hav­ing the right peo­ple around, Am­mons said. Even for some of the in­mates in the cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity now, they have to use some of the same skills he does. Had they had bet­ter in­flu­ences, he said, maybe they’d end up in the same space.

“As long as you have some­one push­ing you, you can make it,” Am­mons said. “Some of these guys are re­ally smart. They have to count, mea­sure and do all of these things. All it takes is one per­son [guid­ing them].”

Young feels the same way. Her mother was a teacher, she said, and she in­stilled in her the qual­ity of help­ing oth­ers. That is what her job as a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer en­tails.

Her job, she said, is to help di­rect other cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers in the fa­cil­ity where they need to be, help them make rounds in the fa­cil­ity, help deal with in­mates as well as any frus­tra­tions they may have through­out the fa­cil­ity.

Though she is not there to be friendly with in­mates, Young has to “em­pathize” with them and let them know she is not there to be an en­emy.

As a black woman, she said, many peo­ple would not ex­pect her to be in the po­si­tion she is. But “this is ex­actly where I want to be,” she said.

Some of the other of­fi­cers in the fa­cil­ity ad­dress her as “mom” be­cause she al­ways gives guid­ance in the right places. She was “born to help peo­ple,” she said, and knew that early on in life be­cause of her mother’s sup­port.

No mat­ter what a per­son looks like, what they may have done or who they may be in­volved with, Young said, she wants to lend a guid­ing hand. And it is not any­thing spe­cial or out of the or­di­nary for her.

“It’s just what I do,” she said. “I can still hear my mom, telling me to keep do­ing this. So that’s what I’m go­ing to do.”

Any­one else can do it, too, said Young — no mat­ter what they may look like on the out­side. What mat­ters is the char­ac­ter in­side, she said.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL SYKES II

Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice Cor­rec­tional Of­fi­cer Julie Young on duty in her of­fice in front of the Amer­i­can Flag as she gives di­rec­tion through­out the county’s cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity.

Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice De­tec­tive Dor­rell Savoy stands in a con­fer­ence room at the Charles County sher­iff’s of­fice be­fore he goes out to work in the com­mu­nity on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

Civil­ian em­ployee and IT ex­pert James Am­mons stand­ing at his desk on Wed­nes­day morn­ing be­fore go­ing out and work­ing on or­ders made through­out the depart­ment.

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