By Elizabeth Brown.
The Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 mandates, as part of a new disciplinary framework, the establishment of a Police Accountability Board in every County to review complaints and disciplinary outcomes and recommend ways to improve police accountability in the County. Providing for civilian oversight of the police through such a Board has the tremendous potential to bring transparency and trust so greatly needed in Baltimore County. One would expect that such a Board would be created with great care and include input from the community. In Baltimore County, that expectation would unfortunately be wrong.
The County administration has left the creation of the Police Accountability Board–deadline July 1, 2022–to the last minute. The County Council held one hearing on April 26 and plans to vote on the bill (Bill 24-22) today at its May 2 meeting. Nearly 30 residents and advocates signed up to testify at the hearing and overwhelmingly called for strengthening the Bill. The compressed timeline does not allow the public to know what if any amendments are being considered nor to have any input on those amendments.
Baltimore County Coalition for Police Accountability (BCCPA), pointing out that the current process is the “antithesis of a fair and transparent process for developing an effective Police Accountability Board,” has called for a postponement of tonight’s vote to allow for additional hearings. “This rushed process is a disservice to the bill’s intent, which is civilian involvement in police accountability.”
The BCCPA states further:
“Time and time again, Baltimore County has demonstrated a lack of respect for the voices of its residents. For example, the BCCPA started reaching out to county leaders in October 2021, asking for a proposed timeline and a draft bill but did not receive a response until February 2022. The Administration hosted two community input forums, with less than a week’s notice. Then the Council hosted a single “public hearing” on Tuesday, April 26th during its regularly scheduled work session. Nearly thirty residents and advocates signed up to speak at the work session and urged the Council to create a strong Police Accountability Board.
Despite profound community interest in modifying the bill, as evidenced by the work session testimony and the many emails to members of the Council and to the PAB@baltimorecountymd.gov address, the Council continues to move forward to a vote today, Monday, May 2. Without any public notice of potential amendments being considered, including any mention of the Administrative Charging Committee (ACC) that must also be established by July 1, 2022 along with the PAB, the Council will be turning its back on a public process open to all. The public has had no opportunity to review or comment on Council amendments to Bill 24-22. Maximum transparency is critical, especially for a bill creating a board that needs public trust in order to be effective.
All potential amendments should be posted online, just as the in-person and virtual PAB public input meetings are available online, for the record. This was done on the County Council’s page for the redistricting process, so the capability for the Council to do so is clearly available.”
Read the complete BCCPA statement.
Some of the amendments called for include diversity of the Board members, representation from each Council District, subpoena powers and investigatory powers to adequately investigate the number of complaints filed, and adequate funding and staffing to fully perform all of the board’s functions and adequately investigate the number of complaints filed. Staffing should include but not be limited to: Director, several full-time Investigators, a Policy/Data Analyst, an Administrative Assistant, and independent legal counsel.
At this point, who knows if the County Council listened or even drafted amendments. Creating a body that is supposed to help bring transparency and accountability to the Baltimore County Police through such a rushed process that is neither transparent or accountable does not bode well!