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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Howard County Police Department as the March 2018 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo features Lieutenant Stephanie Wall getting a “high five” from a student of the Ellicott City Head Start program.
Lieutenant Stephanie Wall knows firsthand how important law enforcement interactions can be with youth in the community. A negative first interaction can result in lifelong distrust of law enforcement, but a positive interaction can change a child’s outlook forever. Having spent over twenty years in law enforcement, Wall attributes her interest in the field to an experience she had as a child when she attended Bear Trax, a camp hosted by the Howard County Police Department (HCPD). The overnight camp provides local children entering middle school with opportunities to engage with law enforcement officers, while also building self-confidence and other important life skills. Prior to attending Bear Trax, Wall had never seen a female police officer. Her camp experience changed her life and entire career trajectory. She learned from the officers that she, too, could be a police officer one day. She possessed the right skills, interest, and love for community that would one day make her a successful officer.
Now, Wall continues to pass the torch to other young girls (and boys) through her outreach efforts with the HCPD. Prior to her promotion to lieutenant, Wall was a sergeant in the Community Outreach Section, which has since grown into the Community Outreach Division. With Wall’s contributions and the leadership of Chief Gary L. Gardner, HCPD’s community outreach continues to expand its efforts, reaching many different segments of the Howard County population.
Diverse in its residents, Howard County, Maryland sits between the nation’s capital and Baltimore. While its population is over 300,000, many people travel through the county daily using its major highways. It is considered one of the most affluent counties in the country, with high education levels and high median income levels. Despite that, Howard County faces similar challenges as the nation, grappling with how best to serve its residents with mental illness or drug addiction.
“One of the things that is most important to the Chief is that all of our officers be trained in CIT [Crisis Intervention Team],” shared Wall when discussing the ways the department is overcoming its challenges. “We have a partnership with Howard County General Hospital and the Horizon Foundation.”
The department also recently expanded its 911-flagging program, which helps identify the addresses of persons with autism to law enforcement officers making house calls. The program now includes other cognitive issues that may impact a person’s interaction with officers. HCPD works closely with the Autism Society, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Howard County Mental Health Authority, Grassroots Crisis Intervention, and others to ensure that officers have the skills and relationships they need to effectively serve the population.
Through the Community Outreach Division, the HCPD regularly meets with its diverse community groups to build, maintain, and strengthen relationships. The department works closely with PFLAG (an organization that advocates on behalf of the LGBTQ community), the Korean Society of Maryland, the African American Roundtable, the Howard County Muslim Council, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, local churches, schools, libraries, and others.
“All of us are responsible for community outreach, not just the Community Outreach Division,” Wall emphasized. She makes a concerted effort to ensure that officers from all parts of the department have opportunities to engage.
HCPD adopted two area Head Start Programs and, with funding from the Howard County Police Foundation, donated supplies for every classroom. “We asked them what their needs were and we met them,” Wall shared proudly. “We took the supplies, but we didn’t just drop them off. We took our cadets, auxiliary, patrol officers, members of the sheriff’s department and we participated in whatever they were doing. If they were dancing, we were dancing. If they had a tea party, we had a tea party. The kids enjoyed it.” Wall, who is a product of Head Start herself, holds the program in a special regard.
The winning photo features Wall during one of her regular Head Start visits. The little girl in the photo wanted specifically to play with Wall, and wanted to give her a high five. “It was really the cutest thing. There was a lot of stuff going on that day and there were some officers there for the first time. She was so excited that she started the high five and I high fived her back. She came in and gave me the tightest hug around my legs, like she was holding onto me for dear life, but she was smiling ear-to-ear.”
“That’s why I always invite new officers,” she continued. “To have someone love on them like that.”
HCPD provides many opportunities beyond Bear Trax and Head Start for officers to engage with youth. The Youth Citizens Academy provides kids in middle and high school the opportunity to meet with the chief directly. Another program called EMBODY is a mentoring program in which officers mentor young males at a local middle school. A couple of HCPD officers like to volunteer their time by teaching middle school- aged kids how to play chess. And, on the first Thursday of each month, the department hosts Coffee with a Cop. HCPD regularly hosts this event at Howard County Community College where criminal justice students can attend and get to engage with officers, while also earning credit for their classes.
These opportunities for engagement certainly provide community members the opportunity to engage with officers, and the officers gain a wealth of support and assurance as well.
“We all need to feel loved, wanted, and supported. One thing we can tout is that we have great community support. Without it, we know that we won’t be challenged,” she shared. “If we ever had any tragedy, we could call on our partners to stand beside us. We are confident that we would have many people stand beside us from all walks of life.”
The COPS Office congratulates the Howard County Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2018 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest, and for its commitment to community policing.
Written with contributions from Howard County Police Department Lieutenant Stephanie Wall and Lori Boone of the Office of Public Affairs. Photo courtesy of the Howard County Police Department.
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