Police now forwarding all complaints to civilian overseers

Police in Baltimore now are forwarding all of the police misconduct complaints they receive to a civilian oversight group, officials told The Baltimore Sun.

Before last August, the department had been forwarding less than a third of the complaints to the Civilian Review Board.

Rodney Hill, the department's internal affairs chief, told The Baltimore Sun last year that some complaints were not forwarded because they lacked a notarized signature, which was required by law. Most complaints would come in through the phone or email, Hill said, and lacked necessary follow-up by the complainants.

City Hall brokered a deal between the police and the board in August in which the police would forward complaints that weren't notarized. Since the deal, Hill said, all complaints have been forwarded.

Jill Carter, who oversees the Civilian Review Board as director of the city's Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, said she has seen "a greater spirit of cooperation," owing in part to the consent decree to reform policing that the city negotiated with the Justice Department.

"Stronger civilian oversight is better for both the community and police," she said.

Police forwarded roughly 40 percent of the 278 misconduct complaints they received last year, data obtained by The Sun show. The complaints not forwarded came before the August agreement.

The Civilian Review Board takes complaints of excessive force, abusive language, harassment, false arrest and false imprisonment. Civilians may file with the civilian board or police. Police are supposed to forward the complaints they receive to the board.

The board, established nearly 20 years ago, oversees police investigations, reviews procedures and makes recommendations to the Commissioner. But it has had few investigators and no enforcement powers, and has struggled to keep seats filled.

City council is scheduled to confirm five of nine board members on Monday. Seats for the Eastern, Western and Southern districts remain open.

The consent decree requires officials to appoint a task force to study and make recommendations to strengthen the board. The city is taking nominations for the task force until May 22.

The General Assembly approved legislation this year to replace the notary requirement with the requirement that complaints be signed and sworn under the penalty of perjury. The bill was supported by Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and passed uncontested by lawmakers. If Gov. Larry Hogan signs it, it will go into effect July 1.

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