To St. Mary's County Sheriff Tim Cameron, the job involves much more than just law enforcement. He views his deputies as being part of a team that is also comprised of citizens who have a vested interest in the well-being of their community. He knows that crime can arise in areas where lack of community cohesiveness exists, and three years ago he set out to improve those conditions for the residents of Lexington Park.
In 2013, the central area of Lexington Park was experiencing numerous issues which were affecting the residents and businesses on a daily basis, and Sheriff Cameron wanted to reassure the citizens that his office would be their partner in helping to resolve these issues. In August 2013, Sheriff Cameron instituted the Community Oriented Policing Unit (COPs) in Lexington Park. The COPs Unit consists of Sergeant Clay Safford, Corporal Danny Ray, Corporal Tim Snyder, Deputy First Class Al Beishline and Deputy First Class Vince Pontorno. These deputies are engaged in building relationships with the residents of Lexington Park, while also employing proactive policing techniques to detect and eliminate criminal activity in the area.
One method of proactive policing the COPs Unit employs is the use of police mountain bikes which has proven to be very effective. They often stop to converse with local residents, many of whom they know by name. The deputies also attend community outreach events, conduct presentations such as active shooter training and drug recognition for parents. During the school year, they visit the two elementary schools in the area on a regular basis.
“This is by far the most rewarding job I have ever had in law enforcement, says Sergeant Clay Safford.” He explained, “Stepping out of our police cars and walking the streets or patrolling on bikes enables us to interact with the community in ways they are not used to seeing. It's positive police encounters and relationship building like this that are helping us to gain trust from the community, and with trust comes increased communication from the public which helps to reduce crime.”
Last night, the Lexington Park COPs Unit attended a Back to School Blast hosted by St. Mary’s Caring. Deputies interacted with school children and their parents realizing the importance of connecting with the youth at a young age to instill in them police are “their friends and helpers” as the COPs Unit likes to say.
“There have been several stories during the last three years where the unit was able to identify a problematic issue within the community, develop a solution, and then apply it over a period-of-time. I am proud of the hard work the unit members do on a daily basis and look forward to doing even more,” said Sergeant Safford.
If you happen to pass a member of the COPs Unit walking the streets or riding a mountain bike while in the Lexington Park area, feel free to stop and say hello and introduce yourself. Today, the COPs Unit celebrates their third anniversary.