Use existing resources from the Prince George’s County Police Department operating budget to create an unarmed division of mental health providers, counselors and health care workers.
Allow community input in the hiring process for a new police chief, negotiating police contracts and appointments to a civilian review board.
These are portions of six recommendations from PG Change Makers, a group of local activists with supporters organizing an online petition demanding county leaders implement policy changes in the police department.
“Divesting funds in law enforcement to invest in social services to get their basic needs met is essential,” said Amity Pope, co-founder of the Change Makers group and president of Our Prince George’s. “If you are running around brutalizing, intimidating Black and brown people, you should be worried about your job. If you are a community servant and advocate as a police officer, then you have nothing to worry about. Your gifts will make room for you.”
One example of divesting funds would be County Executive Angela Alsobrooks proposal to use $20 million from a part of the police budget to fund a mental health facility. The county council later approved the measure and will be included with five bond bills at $506 million and placed on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
Pope, an educator in the county school system, and her co-founding partner of change makers, Krystal Oriadha, helped organize protests throughout the county not only on police reform, but also violence against women and to combat racism.
Oriadha, who co-founded the LGBTQ Dignity Project, serves on a police reform task force created by Alsobrooks.
The 23-member group former after a nearly 100-page report released in June highlighted more than two dozen incidents by white officers who created a hostile work environment for Black and Latino officers.
The report also shows Black and Latino officers are twice as likely to receive disciplinary charges compared to their white counterparts and senior officers failed to keep track of disciplinary actions.
Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned hours after the report became public. The next day, Alsobrooks announced the appointment of Assistant Chief Hector Velez as interim chief while a national search for a new leader continues.
Meanwhile, Pope and Oriadha will join three other panelists Thursday, Aug. 13 to speak on another nationwide topic that’s resurfaced: police in schools, or formally called school resource officers (SROs). The virtual discussion will focus on the effects of SROs on students and communities.
As the county school board prepares to discuss the topic next month, County Council member Jolene Ivey (D-District 5) of Cheverly wants to see some data on the effectiveness of officers in schools.
“If you create a situation where there a lot of police officers in uniform looking like they are looking for someone to arrest, they’re going to find someone to arrest,” she said. “I don’t know if the school resource officer is helping more than they’re hurting. “I would want to see the data on that.”
Activists have said school resource officers don’t necessarily increase safety, which was highlighted in a report published last month by The Justice Police Institute of Northwest.
It notes the percentages of several crime categories such as vandalism, threat without a weapon and theft are higher in schools with police compared to those without them.
The brief notes the average salary for a school resource officers stands at almost $70,350, The figure ranks higher than the average salaries of a secondary special education teacher ($55,559), school counselor ($63,327), secondary teacher ($67,559) and a school nurse ($68,086).
In addition, officers are placed in schools with a large population of Black and Latino students, according to the document.
In Maryland, some officials support SROs, who receive additional training in conflict resolution and drug and alcohol use.
“We look at it as an opportunity for the police and law enforcement to have very positive interactions with children,” Del. Kathy Szeliga, who represents portions of Baltimore and Harford counties, said during a police reform work group discussion last week. “Asking to get rid of the school resource officers in my parts of the state would be boldly rejected.”