Montgomery County model for police-community relations

A video on Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office community outreach is used to train Ohio police officers.

Despite taking “three steps backwards” with police-community relations after the so-called racist text message controversy, a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office outreach initiative has become a model for Ohio police training.

A video about the Improving Modern Police And Community Trust (IMPACT) committee started by Sheriff Phil Plummer is part of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy’s (OPOTA) new course designed to help race relations with minority populations.

“It frankly is essential,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “Community police relations, opening up a dialogue, opening up contacts that take place not just after a tragedy has occurred or one horrible incident, but it’s an ongoing, day-after-day (commitment).

“What you want is for people in the community to see police as people and the police to see people in the community as fellow citizens.”

DeWine's task force to update Ohio's police ongoing training resulted in minimum hours increasing from four to 11 in 2016 and 20 in 2017. The video entitled Building Trust is part of a four-hour portion about police-community relations and implicit bias available from OPOTA.

“The people who were interviewed really told the story,” DeWine said. “They tell that story on the video so much better than I could or anyone else could standing up and saying, OK, here’s what the sheriff’s office in Montgomery County is doing.”

Plummer said the initiative joins other department programs such as the police athletic league, the Cal Ripken baseball outreach, drug-free coalition and block parties.

“I’m kind of proud that … our office is kind of leading the way in police-community relations,” Plummer said this week. “It’s nice to get recognized that we’re actually doing the right thing.”

Plummer said IMPACT meetings started about a year ago after two of his employees were terminated after text messages he considered racist were discovered on their phones.

“That hit the public and it really took our department three steps backwards, as far as police-community relations,” Plummer said during the video. “We worked very hard to build these relationships.”

Plummer said the IMPACT program was suggested by Dept. of Justice mediator and conciliator Daedra A. Von Mike McGhee in Detroit, which has a similar initiative.

Dayton Unit NAACP President Derrick Foward said that while his office still investigates complaints against law enforcement, it’s obvious that the sheriff’s office is engaged in the community.

“It helps to build trust in the community with law enforcement,” Foward said. “Once they build that trust, then they’re able to get intelligence on various particular situations and different issues.”

Plummer said his department has set local standards and pointed to the firing of a Fairborn police officer who was fired after mocking on social media the suicide of a Black Lives Matter activist.

“If you’ve got a guy doing that and you don’t fire him, I think you’re going to have problems, don’t you?” Plummer said.

The IMPACT committee including law enforcement, faith, business and other community leaders next meets at 11 a.m. March 31 at Apex Community Church at 5200 Far Hills Ave., Kettering. The public is welcome.

The agenda includes a discussion about mental health in the community and follow-up on law enforcement minority recruitment.

“All organizations have to work with community leaders and we have to build trust amongst each other,” Plummer said. “Dynamics have changed. I definitely think this is working.”