TAKOMA PARK, Md.– Several Takoma Park City Council members praised the work of police Chief Antonio DeVaul for his efforts to lead a department more engaged with the community during his presentation of the police’s annual report at a council meeting March 6.
“When we reach out to the community they have a better understanding of what we do, there’s better transparency, and they feel better about calling us about issues,” police spokesperson Cathy Plevy said. “We drive that partnership.”
DeVaul noted that violent crime decreased in the city over six percent from 2017 to 2018, and has declined 30 percent since 2014. DeVaul was sworn in as chief in January 2018.
“We have made great strides to utilize emergent technologies to combat crime,” he said in his opening statement.
Throughout his presentation, DeVaul made clear his commitment to community policing and improving the police department’s relationship with city residents. He highlighted several community outreach programs, including Coffee with a Cop, the Neighborhood Police Academy and Junior Police Explorers.
“Engaging people at every level is the most important thing,” DeVaul said.
City Manager Suzanne Ludlow said while she does not think a reduction in crime necessarily means the department is doing a “better job,” she has recognized a marked improvement in the relationship between the police and Takoma residents.
“What I do think is more important [than a percentage point reduction in crime] is people’s feelings about the police department and the interactions, and that’s something I’ve seen real changes with in the past year,” Ludlow said. “I’m really pleased about that.”
Mayor Kate Stewart said in an interview the department has not always emphasized community policing, and that through her nearly 25 years living in the city, residents’ attitude towards the police has had its ups and downs.
“I think like any relationship it goes through changes,” she said.
DeVaul said while the outreach programs have made significant progress in strengthening the relationship with the community overall, the department needs to gain the confidence of groups that historically distrust the police.
According to a Takoma Park resident survey completed by the National Research Center also released in March, 85 percent of white residents find the police department “honest and trustworthy” compared to 52 percent of black residents.
I want to see a much larger impact on groups that mistrust the police,” DeVaul said. “I really want to continue the upward trend of treating everyone equal and having a professional and respectful police department.”