Prince George’s County residents have a few suggestions on how to reform their beleaguered police department.
A police reform task force created by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks heard ideas such as implicit bias training, residency requirements and making more data transparent.
One recommendation nearly three dozen residents made during a 90-minute community session was to cut some of the police budget and use it for mental health, social and other community services.
“It is possible for the county to shift resources from a bloated police department to community services,” Heather Cronk of Riverdale Park said Thursday, July 23. “This work group has an opportunity to think about what’s possible rather than simply nibbling around the edges of reform.”
A 23-member task force established earlier this month listened to community suggestions with a goal to assess and analyze police department use of force, hiring and training policies.
The group, scheduled to present a report to the county executive by Oct. 30, will work as the county fights an ongoing lawsuit filed in December 2018 by former and current Black and Latino officers who alleged racial and retaliatory practices within the department.
A 94-page report written by Michael E. Graham, a former 33-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department, highlights more than two dozen incidents by white officers who created a hostile work environment, as well as a lack of training with the department.
Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned hours after the report became public last month. The next day, Alsobrooks announced the appointment of Assistant Chief Hector Velez as interim chief while a national search for a new leader continues.
Police reform has been a topic of national conversation since the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 that sparked protests against police brutality and other forms of racism.
Other reform measures include taking officers out of schools, which the Los Angeles Board of Education did earlier this month to cut its budget by $25 million. According to board documents, that money will be redirected to schools with majority-Black student populations for social services, guidance counselors and safety aides.
Some Prince George’s residents want similar measures to remove school resource officers (SROs) out of school buildings.
Ibrahim Aziz of Upper Marlboro said money paid for SROs should be used instead for mental health professionals in the schools, as well as a pilot program “where they are sent on nonviolent calls … where no guns are present.”
Calvin Charles, a county native and law enforcement officer, said having officers in the school help build relationships with the youth. Charles didn’t specify whether he’s a Prince George’s officer.
“That will give young people ventures to probably become a Prince George’s County police officer, or any police officer, when they have positive influence,” he said. “This also keeps the teachers and staff safe when they have children running amok … not getting the right education and thinking that violence is OK.”
County officials did restructure part of the fiscal year 2021 budget. The county council on July 21 approved to accept a recommendation from Alsobrooks to reallocate $20 million from the police budget earmarked for public safety training facility to construct a building for mental health and addiction.
According to the fiscal 2021 county budget documents, the police department budget passed in May slightly exceeds $365 million with about 1,700 full-time officers.
Meanwhile, some Black and Latino officers who filed a suit against the county and police department offered a dozen recommendations to transform the department, such as adopting a stronger affirmative action plan, providing incentives for officers hired within two years to reside in the county and adopting a bystander intervention program that teaches officers how to intercede when wrongdoing by another officer occurs.
Additionally, any current supervisor aligned with Stawinski must also step down, the group recommended.
“There is no leadership going on right now,” said Lt. Thomas Boone, a 22-year veteran of the county police department and president of the United Black Police Officers Association. “We have to make sure we bring in someone who hasn’t been tainted under [Stawinski].”