Peace Officers all over this country take an oath to protect and serve with honor and integrity, and they are certainly not routinely shooting people. Officers are human beings, who are imperfect, and sometimes make mistakes, especially when having to make a life or death, split-second decision. During such confrontations in which officers use deadly force, nobody escapes unscathed. Officers and their families oftentimes suffer from invisible emotional wounds and experience post-traumatic stress disorder that can persist for many years after the incident. The decision to use deadly force is anything but routine. What is routine for officers throughout our great Nation, is that they willingly put their lives at risk to protect strangers, their fellow citizens. They truly are the Peacemakers. As Mother Theresa said, “if we do not have peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.” Police Officers-Peacemakers, who do this job properly, speak with their actions, and their actions most often demonstrate that we do, in fact, belong to one another.
With regard to the concerns expressed by a few of the Abington School Board Directors, the Abington Police Department and the Abington School District have had ongoing, meaningful discussions over the years related to race relations, police practices, diversionary programs, and issues of disparate impact. We hope to continue these discussions to better understand ways to avoid discriminatory practices. I am truly grateful for the overwhelming support from Police Officers throughout this region and even the country. I have been encouraged by the number of calls that I have received from the Community, Abington Township Commissioners and Abington School Board Directors. All expressed their support for our SRO’s and our Department and universally rejected the divisive comments.
For decades now, the Abington Township Police Department has been committed to the safety and security of our citizens, guided by our core values and a commitment to the philosophy of community oriented policing. The Abington Township Police Department has been described as “Community Policing on Steroids” with the simple motto of “Community First!” We have worked in partnership with the Abington School District, the Willow Grove NAACP and so many other stakeholders to foster healthy relationships based on mutual respect, transparency, and above all, TRUST. Our partnership with the Abington School District has been a model for other communities, having been recognized by Colin Powell’s “America’s Promise” five times as “One of the Best Communities in the U.S. For Children,” Money Magazine as one of the “Top 100 Small Communities in the U.S.” and two times by the International Association of Chiefs of Police with the prestigious Community Policing Award. This long-standing relationship would not have been possible without the vision, leadership and commitment of those who served before us in previous administrations, and for that, I am truly grateful.
Our current Superintendent, Dr. Jeff Fecher, and his leadership team have also demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to this partnership with our Department, co-sponsoring programs designed to promote healthy interactions between the police and the school community. As an organization, we take tremendous pride in this relationship and our School Resource Officer (SRO) Program. Abington SRO’s have been in our schools since 1998, and they have enjoyed a great relationship with the administration, school board directors, students and staff. In fact, these officers are selected with the input of Abington School District officials, and all are highly-trained officers in full uniform, equipped with all of the tools necessary to protect our students, faculty and staff from any threats of violence. These officers are both tactically sound and capable of employing various techniques that are designed to deescalate tense encounters. Our SRO’s and other Abington Police Department staff train school district teachers and staff on emergency planning and response procedures to active threats. It would be naïve to believe that our community is immune from threats of gun violence in our schools. Moreover, as leaders in the police department and school district, we would be grossly negligent not to provide the best training and personnel possible to mitigate this risk. Data shows that during an active shooter threat, when seconds count, officers are minutes away. Having highly skilled and trained SRO’s assigned to our campuses ensures that officers will be running toward the threat and will be indeed “only be seconds away.” There is no scenario in which any police officer would be permitted to be on duty in uniform without his or her firearm. Those who believe otherwise or attempt to disarm police officers in our schools truly do not understand the threats that exist in our society and the role that police officers play in deterring threats, running toward the gunshots, and protecting the most vulnerable among us.
As an accredited and professional police organization, we acknowledge that issues related to racial disparities within the criminal justice system do exist, and we are committed to an open dialogue with the community to address these injustices. I am extremely proud of our relationship with our entire community, and I am truly grateful for the love and support of Miss Valerie Ward, the President of the Willow Grove NAACP. Since the mid-1990s, and under the leadership of Dr. Don Clarke, the NAACP and Abington Township Police Department have honored an agreement that outlines ways to improve communication, handle complaints of misconduct, collaborate on training, and improve minority recruitment. Moreover, we have had a long-standing relationship with members of the clergy, the Abington Human Relations Commission, and others, who have trained our officers on biased-based policing, implicit bias, and fair and impartial policing.
Dr. Klaiman and I have also spoken about these comments, and I have accepted her apology. She expressed to me how she truly regrets making these statements and understands how they were offensive to not only members of our community but to police officers throughout the country and their families. Dr. Klaiman and I agree that we have citizens in our communities and throughout this Nation, who have been marginalized or otherwise feel that they have been targeted by discriminatory police practices, and we will continue to work as a community to address these concerns. There is still work to be done. My staff and I look forward to these courageous conversations with the Abington School Board Directors, community officials and our citizens.