Art appreciation

Art and Appreciation: A Teen’s Gift to UMB Police

When 17-year-old Jima Chester visited the University of Maryland, Baltimore Police Department (UMBPD) last summer to talk about the impact of trauma on young people, she didn’t know at the time. that she would end up giving the agents a handcrafted gift. that would be posted to the department for years to come. Not only that, but it would also become a symbol of an emerging and promising relationship between the UMBPD and the youth of Baltimore.

From left to right: Joni Holifield, Tonya Black, Kyla Liggett-Creel, Jima Chester, Matthew Johnson and Chad Ellis.

On January 4, Chester introduced Lt. Matthew Johnsonwho leads the Community Outreach and Support Team (COAST) of the UMBPD, and Acting Deputy Chief Chad Ellis with an acrylic painting of the department’s traditional patch, as a gesture of appreciation for its willingness to reach out to young people in the area. (head UMBPD Thomas Leone, MSLcould not attend.)

“I painted this for the police department out of appreciation for all of their sincere efforts and success in caring for, bonding and teaching young people,” Chester explained. “They probably don’t even know it, but being with them and being able to see some of the things they do and experience has created transparency and vulnerability between me and the officers. The painting was a thank you to them for helping me understand their work and for them to understand me and treat me like family.

In July, Chester gave a PowerPoint presentation on youth and trauma as an ambassador for the Healing Youth Alliance (HYA), a culturally appropriate program focused on healing African American youth. HYA is a collaboration between University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW)the Baltimore City Health Department’s Office of Youth and Trauma Services and two Baltimore nonprofit organizations: HeartSmiles, LLC and the Black Mental Health Alliance.

Spending time with officers that day, and on subsequent visits to the department, opened the West Baltimore resident’s eyes to a new way of thinking about law enforcement.

“We just had really good conversations,” she said. “They showed us around, we were able to see the different parts of the department. Everyone was really nice. And we just sort of established a really good relationship and bond. It was a different view of police for me, living in the city all my life.

Johnson said fostering strong relationships with the city’s youth is a key UMBPD goal.

“The relationship between law enforcement and the citizens of Baltimore City can be contentious at times,” said Johnson, who grew up in Baltimore. COAST strives to build positive relationships with the communities surrounding UMB.

The department partners with HeartSmiles to collaborate on programs that youth and UMBPD officers can plan together, Johnson said. HeartSmiles seeks to provide exceptional enrichment and leadership development opportunities to youth in Baltimore’s most underserved communities.

“What we’re trying to do to be different, to be on the cutting edge of policing, is really dig deep into the community to make those connections from an early age,” he said.

When Kyla Liggett-Creel, PhD, LCSW-Can associate clinical professor at UMSSW, introduced Johnson to HeartSmiles, he felt it was a great opportunity for young people to be invited to come to the UMBPD station to meet the officers one-on-one.

“It was a way for young people to learn more about the department, our mission, the equipment we use, what we do, the different procedures we have and how we differ from other departments in police,” Johnson said. Not only would the youngsters get an insight into how the department works, but they would also be informed about job opportunities in the future, he added.

“It’s important that we work with the community because we’re part of the community,” Johnson said.

Through her work with Baltimore Youth and HYA, Liggett-Creel suggested HeartSmiles President and Co-Founder Joni Holifield consider exploring a partnership between the nonprofit and the UMBPD, who had already expressed interest in the idea.

“I work with a lot of young people in Baltimore City. And sadly, I hear a lot of stories about how they had really negative, scary, traumatic interactions with the Baltimore police,” Liggett-Creel said. She had previously worked with Leone and Johnson on other projects, including the UMSSW internship program with UMBPD. “I knew it could be a healing relationship, and that my children that I work with could benefit from being able to talk about their experiences and have a positive experience with someone in law enforcement, and that the police could benefit from hearing children talk about their experiences.

As eager as Liggett-Creel was to bring the two bands together, Holifield didn’t have it. She was skeptical of the UMBPD’s commitment to serving the community. “They didn’t think we were actually doing the community things that we do. So, I invited her to come,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s invitation to young people from Holifield and HeartSmiles to visit the station was initially met with apprehension. Holifield readily admits she wasn’t a fan of the idea. Now she describes the relationship the UMBPD is building with HeartSmiles as an “incredible collaboration” that she never expected to see.

“I’m not even going to lie to you. I probably wouldn’t even be at this table if I didn’t trust Dr K [Liggett-Creel]because when Dr. K first came up with this idea, I was like, you know, no, no, that’s just too bad.

Some HeartSmiles youth have recently been released from incarceration or juvenile detention, Holifield noted. “So it’s a very, very, very sensitive situation. And we have young people who have been, in their own words, victimized by police and law enforcement. But Dr K said, ‘No , it will be different. These people are not like that. She said to meet them first and we will go from there.

Liggett-Creel hosted a video call to introduce Johnson and Holifield. Soon after, Holifield visited the department.

Within 10 minutes of arriving, “I knew Dr. K. was right,” Holifield said. “Just even in some of the language they used about how they treat the community. And we could run over some of the officers and see them engaging with members of the community around the corner, not knowing who I was, and just not how they spoke to them but also showing them respect. I mean, it was just something unheard of.

Holifield was so impressed with UMBPD’s community outreach efforts that she shared her experience in a presentation she gave at the American Public Health Association conference in Denver to an audience of 10,000 people attending. at the virtual summit and in person.

“I said, ‘Well, lucky for you all, I just saw a pattern in my own town that works,'” she said. “I’m happy but at the same time I’m angry, because it’s our best kept secret and nobody really takes it seriously and thinks OK, well, how can we evolve this? How can we we take this model and do something that will benefit the whole city and not just these few blocks?”

With Holifield’s skepticism assuaged, around 15 young people from HeartSmiles visited the station in November for a tour and to share pizza with officers. They toured the call room where they took turns with MILO, a virtual training simulator used by officers to describe real-life scenarios in which split-second decisions need to be made.

“They really enjoyed it. No one wanted to leave at the end of the night,” Johnson said.

Plans are underway to do another collaboration with HeartSmiles this spring, increasing the number of young participants. Johnson also wants to bring in members from different units across the department to discuss career opportunities.

Johnson said he hopes teens let their peers know that the police are people too.

“No, we don’t want our department to be a closed thing that the public can’t see. We are transparent. We want people to be here,” he said.

Of the painting, Johnson said, “we had no idea she was going to do something like this. It’s touching and I feel like we’re on the right track.