Community wants to play role in selection of next police commissioner

Community activists say they are concerned that an advisory panel that will help Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake select Baltimore's next police commissioner lacks representatives from city neighborhoods. 

In an e-mail to Rawlings-Blake sent Monday, Cortly Witherspoon and Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, who lead civil rights groups, asked Rawlings-Blake to consider adding community members to the panel. The concerns are also shared by members of the Police Community Relations councils, which hold monthly neighborhood meetings at each of the nine police districts.

Though all are involved in city civic affairs, at least four of the panel's 10 members appear to reside outside of Baltimore, according to a review of public records.

Applications for the commissioner job aren't due until the end of the week, and the activists say it's not too late to get the community involved. 

"We're very disappointed in the mayor for not including the public," said Jack Baker, president of the Southern District Police Community Relations Council. Added Witherspoon: "We think it's critical and of great importance to make sure there's some diversified opinions on this issue. The community comes with a certain perspective that deserves to be heard."

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said in an e-mail that the mayor's plans for the advisory panel includes having them meet with the Community Relations Council presidents as part of their process, but he declined further comment on calls that the advisory panel be expanded to include community members.

Rawlings-Blake's panel includes two members of her staff, three college administrators, a retired fire chief, and Chuck Wexler, the executive director of a law enforcement think tank in Washington DC that is being paid to assist in the search. It is chaired by Kenneth L. Thompson, an attorney who works on civil and commercial litigation. 

Thompson has deferred prior questions about the advisory panel process to the mayor's office.

O'Doherty said that with the exception of Wexler, all the panel members are "stakeholders" in the Baltimore area and "share an interest in the city's public safety efforts."

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said there “ought to be somebody from the police community relations councils sitting on that panel.” But he also said he didn’t think the panel was necessary in the first place – he believes the city is wasting money with a national search because it has qualified candidates in-house. The Police Executive Research Forum is being paid $25,000 to assist in the search, city officials have said.

Brandon Scott, a councilman who is vice chair of the council’s public safety committee, said, “it would have been nice to have at least one community representative from the east and west side on the panel.”

“But as that didn’t happen, I would hope that the panel reaches out to community leaders,” Scott said.

Cheatham said panel members such as Herman Williams, a former fire chief, are strong picks, but don't have experiences in the community like activists and neighborhood leaders. He questioned whether members of the panel will be cognizant of history including a settlement between the Police Department and the ACLU and NAACP over mass arrests, including an agreement that so-called "quality of life" arrests be monitored by an outside consultant. 

Rawlings-Blake will ultimately decide who will be the city's next commissioner, but the panel will screen and interview candidates, recommending finalists to the mayor. 

Past Mayor Sheila Dixon had a less formal process, using an advisory panel that included business consultant and eventual state Democratic Party chairman Michael Cryor, and her pastor Frank M. Reid III. Most of her advisors wanted her to pick former DC chief Charles Ramsey, but she went withFrederick H. Bealefeld III.

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