Racially motivated vandalism, black-white confrontations and student drug use are among the problems Montgomery County residents would prefer to ignore, county police chief Robert diGrazia said last week.
"Bad, dirty things happen in Montgomery County," diGrazia told about three dozen county residents. "The community should start being honest with themselves."
DiGrazia spoke to members of Suburban Maryland Fair Housing Inc. (SMFH) at their annual membership meeting at Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Bethesda. Police community relations director, Cpl. Richard Williams, and Montgomery County Public Schools human relations specialist, Stephen Tarason, joined deGrazia in a panel on community relations.
SMFH. which has more than 500 members, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "better housing for all." Its major goal is to work toward ending racial and ethnic discrimination in the county, endouraging the development of moderately priced housing and investigating problems faced by homeseekers.
Reports of sporadic incidents of racial harassment in the county led the organization to seek ways of reducing tensions in county neighborhoods, according to SMFH President Edgar Russell.
Racially motivated incidents are increasing, said Williams, who mentioned a number of cross burnings on residents' lawns as well as a case in which black woman's car tires were slashed.
Williams, who joined the police department in 1968 as its first black officer, said victims in such incidents often want to "avoid trouble" and are reluctant to report them. The result, Williams said, is that law-breakers feel safe.
"But (the victim) has already got trouble," he noted. "Blacks and other minorities should come forward and report incidents."
County residents' attitude that "Montgomery County is the best and nothing can be wrong" makes it difficult for the police department to do its job, said diGrazia. "Do not be afraid to call on your police department and demand of your police department.
"The police and community too often look at the police as apart from the community rather than a part of the community. The vast majority of police officers see the community as the enemy because that's the way they've been trained."
DiGrazia said extensive new training programs for police officers are geared to improving attitudes. "We need each other and have to work together," he said.
In coping with racial concerns in the police department itself, Williams noted that the department "has come a long way." In the past, he said, black officers "were not wanted here. But blacks came anyway, mostly because of black citizens in Montgomery County doing outreach."
"For too long, policing has been white male and as big as possible and there are many things wrong with that," added DiGrazia, who said the department is using recruitment procedures to improve the racial and sexual balance in the department. "It's slow, but sure we're going to change (the racial and sexual balance). Unfortunately, it's too slow andnot too sure."
In an effort to prevent racial incidents in the school system, the human relations services department prepares instructional materials, provides staff training and has developed a series of "Black Relations Action Steps," noted Tarason.
He urged residents to contact the school system if they see any racial incidents in the school.
The community generally has supported the police department's recent drug arrests on or near county schools, diGrazia said in response to a question from the audience.
"The whole idea is to bring attention to everyone about what the problem is," he said. "What we've trying to do is say, 'Hey folks, what are you doing about these young people?"