From the Bel Air Police Department:
Over the past several days the Bel Air Police Department has received a number of calls (positive and negative) concerning a highly charged issue facing our society today. This issue involves officer and citizen interaction related to immigration status. Most media outlets who have shared the details of this event have been fair; however, intimate details of the incident were not provided and/or excluded. In an effort to reinforce our belief on transparent policing we are releasing further details of the incident.
The Bel Air Police Department in no manner supports bias based policing/racial profiling tactics while in the performance of our duties. The Bel Air Police Department is transparent in its operations and treats everyone with respect, dignity and in an unbiased fashion. Our goal is to earn everyone’s respect and admiration and to keep our community safe.
Since the initial incident, we have experienced a very productive dialogue with Ms. Pillalamarri and her family who are supportive of our efforts and vision for keeping this community safe. We encouraged the Pillalamarri’s to share their story to reduce the confusion, tension and anxieties that some citizens may experience when interacting with officers, especially for the first time.
On December 21, 2016 at around 9:40 AM our officers were dispatched to Homestead Village, a quiet and small neighborhood located in southern Bel Air. The call involved a resident who was asking officers to check a suspicious person walking in the neighborhood. The caller indicated that she was concerned because in the past there had been thefts of packages from porches in the area. The police department has also investigated several burglaries in that neighborhood. The caller provided a description of the suspicious person including clothing and the suspicious activity. The officer made contact with this complainant who advised the officer that the suspicious person had made several laps of the court, walking slowly and peering into parked cars. She could not identify the person’s race or ethnicity but described the clothing that matched what Ms. Pillalamarri was wearing and the direction in which she traveled when leaving the court.
The officer began searching and located Ms. Aravinda Pillalamarri in the immediate area; who matched the clothing and general physical description provided by the complainant. Upon his approach to Ms. Pillalamarri, the officer was immediately asked by Ms. Pillalamarri if she was being stopped for “walking while brown.” The officer immediately denied this and indicated to her that he had been dispatched to a call for service and was trying to check her welfare. Ms. Pillalamarri then began to walk away from the officer, refusing to speak to him or to provide identification. The officer continued to attempt to establish dialogue.
Upon arrival of the supervisor, he attempted dialogue with Ms. Pillalamarri, including establishing her identity and indicating to her that she was stopped because of a criminal investigation. Ms. Pillalamarri then requested to know if she was under arrest and she was told that she was not. After several attempts to establish her identity, she was asked if she was in the country legally. The officer indicated to her that once identification was made she would be free to leave. After further dialogue that included explaining the reason for interacting with her, Ms. Pillalamarri provided her name. Once the officers verified her identity and confirmed that no criminal activity was afoot she was allowed to proceed. The call for service was concluded with no further action. The entire interaction with Ms. Pillalamarri was less than 13 minutes in duration.
Law enforcement has an obligation to investigate any suspicious activity and the Bel Air Police Officers performed that essential function in this incident. The supervisor (seasoned and well respected in his community) engaged in a dialogue that had migrated into a sensitive and socially charged topic. Diffusing and stabilizing highly charged and difficult situations, like this require constant training and practice. Continual training and education improves awareness and relieves anxieties faster. It is also clear that questioning ones immigration status isn’t the answer for relieving tension.
We encourage open and reasonable dialogue on this topic, however, comments that are rude, vulgar, discriminatory, racist, biased, threatening in nature, will be removed from our social media. It is hoped that open dialogue, such as this, will help everyone realize that hostility and anger are not the key in resolving this issue in our community or country. All officers will begin updated training on bias based/implicit bias within the near future as a result of this incident.
Chief Charles A. Moore