Real Police Reform Needed Now

By Peta Richkus.

You might think, with a single law that applies to all 142 law enforcement agencies in Maryland (LEOBR: the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights), there would be uniformity in policing.

You would be wrong.

The only thing that is uniform is the lack of oversight and accountability. Because of LEOBR, those police officers who do violate their oath to “protect and serve” are given protections that raise them above the law. “Any group can have a few bad apples”? But if nothing can be done to root out the bad actors, the system must be changed.

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski, Jr. and Police Chief Melissa Hyatt were congratulated when they announced, in June, policy initiatives to move policing in Baltimore County in a positive direction. Rightly so. The steps being taken by the Chief are good ones. But proper policing and public safety should not be subject to changes in administration. County executives and police chiefs come and go. That is why Councilman Julian E. Jones, Jr. introduced Bill 73-20 to codify some of the steps they proposed, along with other needed changes, to support the Baltimore County Police Department (BCoPD) in their efforts to be and do better, and to make them and our community safer.

There is no doubt that most police officers do, and want to do, a good job as Peace Officers. The law governing the Baltimore County Police Department begins, “A police officer is a peace officer ….” But that law needs strengthening.

There are too many examples of overly-aggressive policing. Even a much-admired Police Department like BCoPD could and should do better.

By tabling the bill, Councilmembers Quirk, Marks, Crandell and Chairwoman Bevins opposed codifying:

  • Additional training in de-escalation, appropriate use of force, and avoiding bias and stereotyping
  • Screening new hires for prior misconduct
  • Banning deadly neck restraint
  • Requiring officers to provide or call for medical assistance when a detainee is injured or under medical duress
  • A self-regulating BCoPD Honor Code
  • Whistleblower protection
  • Additional BCoPD resources for crisis intervention
  • Public transparency
  • Collecting and sharing appropriate arrest data
  • Adding trained civilian members to the Police Review Board

We have all seen that gratuitous violence is too often the gut reaction of some police officers, especially when dealing with black persons, persons of color, and/or persons in mental crisis or with some sort of disability that makes their response to detention appear ‘non-typical.’

To do nothing, to wait for the State to do ‘something’ as yet undefined, is unacceptable.

The County-wide support that was expressed for 73-20 is only growing for Councilman Jones’s upcoming bill. The next Council work session is Tuesday, 9/1/20 at 4pm. This is the opportunity for residents to testify. The next Council Legislative Session is Monday, 9/8/20 at 6pm.

Peta Richkus is a retired State employee. MD Secretary of General Services, Jan 1999 – Jan 2003; Commissioner, Port of Baltimore, MD Port Administration, Jul 2008 – Jan 2014.

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