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Baltimore accepting applications for Community Oversight Task Force members under federal consent decree

Baltimore is accepting applications from prospective members of a panel designed to provide community oversight of the city police department, as mandated under the city's federal consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.

"This is going to be a transparent and open process because we need the community's input to make true reforms to our police department and to build a strong working relationship between the community and the department," Mayor Catherine Pugh said at City Hall on Thursday.

On the city's website, a page created for the consent decree — consentdecree.baltimorecity.gov — provides an online form where applicants can apply by providing basic information and uploading their resumes.

A timeline on the website says applications to the Community Oversight Task Force will be accepted through May 22. After applications are reviewed, Pugh will conduct interviews with applicants and the panel's five members will be announced in June, according to the timeline. The panel's inaugural meeting will take place in July.

The consent decree was recently approved by a federal judge. It mandates sweeping reforms throughout the police department.

The Justice Department launched an investigation of the police department after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody and subsequent rioting in 2015. The investigation found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing by the Baltimore Police Department, particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods.

The oversight panel's role will be to review the current functions of the existing Civilian Review Board, which is charged with reviewing complaints alleging excessive force, abusive language, harassment, false arrest and false imprisonment by officers.

The new panel will look for ways to improve the Review Board's "efficacy, including, but not limited to, changes to complaint intake, investigations, resources, coordination with and independence from [the police department], and authority to recommend discipline; the assessment should specify whether any recommended changes require state legislative action."

They will consider whether the Civilian Review Board itself is transparent enough, is strong enough to hold the department accountable for misconduct by officers, or can be improved.

The Civilian Review Board has been criticized for years as having little authority to force change, and a Baltimore Sun analysis found police did not forward to the board more than two-thirds of the police misconduct cases under its purview between 2013 and 2015

The police department agreed last year to provide the Civilian Review Board with complaints about officer misconduct, and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said his department is working closely with the panel to provide it with information.

However, under Pugh, the panel has been largely non-existent, its seats vacant.

Pugh on Thursday said she had put forward nominees to fill the seats, which are now before the City Council. Asked for a list of names of those nominated, she said the City Council would have to provide them.

The office of Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said the nominees are Danielle Carter Kushner, of East Baltimore; Blair Thompson, of Southeast Baltimore; Andrew Reinel, of South Baltimore; Melvin Currie, of Southwest Baltimore; Bridal Pearson, of North Baltimore; Danielle Williamson, of Central Baltimore; Leslie Parker Blyther, of West Baltimore; and Frederick Jackson, of Northwest Baltimore.

Mr. Michael Ross, of Northeast, is already on the commission.

Jill Carter, director of the city's Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, which oversees the Civilian Review Board, said she is convinced the new oversight task force will help ensure the review board is successful in the future.

"I can barely contain my enthusiasm and excitement," Carter said. "It's a step on the ladder toward making the Civilian Review Board and making civilian oversight actually legitimate."

Pugh said her administration is giving the Civilian Review Board "the power" it needs to hold police accountable.

Davis expressed his support for the added community input in police affairs.

"This whole consent decree process is something that's being done for us, as opposed to something that is being done to us," Davis said. "I'm convinced that it's already making us better and will just continue to make us better."

Prospective applicants to the oversight task force must commit at least 10 hours a month to the task force for 11 consecutive months, according to the city website.

The website also says applicants must demonstrate an "ability to be impartial and objective;" a "commitment to serving Baltimore communities;" and an "interest and/or involvement in issues concerning civilian oversight."

They also must show they have good communication and listening skills, the ability to work well in groups and maintain "high standards of confidentiality," and be "willing to make a substantial time commitment — including trainings, monthly evening meetings, workgroup meetings, community meetings and independent review of relevant documents."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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