As Maryland counties and Baltimore City continue work on implementing police accountability boards, criminal justice advocates demand a simple request: make sure residents are involved in the process.

For instance, Prince George’s County already received dozens of applications from those interested to serve on a police accountability board [PAB].

Residents including Beverly John called the move “a sneak attack” when residents should be involved in the entire process. An integral group of 30 people that includes county staffers, law enforcement officials and a county Civilian Complaint Oversight Panel continue to review the applications, assess a budget and create proposed legislation to present to the council.

The deadline closed last month for residents to apply on the county PAB slated to have seven members.

“We are now waiting with bated breath for the work group to submit their draft legislation to the council,” John said Thursday, Feb. 17 “We are really trying to get some community engagement to whatever is going on because that is probably the only way this won’t be railroaded and pushed down our throats . . . based on what they decide.”

John’s comments mirror concerns statewide from other activists who count as part of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability.

State lawmakers approved legislation last year for all 23 counties and Baltimore City to create a police accountability board, which would be the first place to review citizen complaints of police misconduct and other allegations. In addition, no active police officer can serve on the board and it “must reflect racial, gender and cultural diversity” of a county and Baltimore City.

“It is really important that these boards reflect the community,” said Yanet Amanuel, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland which helped organize the discussion.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball signed legislation Feb. 15 for the jurisdiction to establish a police accountability board with seven members appointed by the executive and approved by the County Council. Each person must be at least 25 years old and “have a committed interest and active involvement in Howard County community service.”

The board would begin its work by July 1, which starts the new fiscal year.

Jim Gormley, who serves on a police reform steering committee in Howard County, said the legislation doesn’t allow for its police accountability board to immediately receive records after a “critical incident” such as officer-involved shootings.

“It’s hard to see how the PAB can do a good job on accountability if they can’t get access to the information in a timely manner,” he said.

In Baltimore City, there’s state legislation crafted by Baltimore Democrats Sen. Jill Carter and Del. Stephanie Smith to allow the city’s Civilian Review Board (CRB) to function as a PAB. There’s a possibility the city may repeal the CRB.

The legislation from Carter and Smith would allow the CRB to review all types of complaints. The proposal includes the board receiving no less than 2% of the police department’s total budget.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a public hearing on Carter’s bill Feb. 16 and Smith’s companion bill will be reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee on March 1.

Baltimore remains the only law enforcement agency in Maryland under state control but state lawmakers voted last year to allow city voters to amend the city’s charter to allow for local police control. 

However, the City Council must decide on a charter amendment and referendum question to place on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. If approved, the city regaining control may not happen until next year.

The city’s civilian board, created in 1999, may assess complaints for only five allegations that include abusive language, excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment or harassment. The board can also investigate resident complaints.

“We already have instruction(s) that’s in place. We already know how things work,” said Tierra Hawkes, chair of the city’s CRB. “We’re striving to have more police transparency and accountability.”

@WJFjabariwill 

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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