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Who killed police reform bills in Baltimore?

The 2017 Maryland General Session is over, and not one piece of legislation that would have significantly changed how the Baltimore Police Department operates will become a law. For a city clamoring concurrently for reform and better used police resources, this is extremely disappointing. Because there are untruths being spread about some of the bills, I want to clarify the facts around a few pieces of proposed legislation.

Baltimore's police districts have not been redrawn in decades, and despite promises of redistricting from many elected officials through the years, no progress has been made on the issue. Working in partnership with Del. Cory McCray, Sen. Nathaniel McFadden and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, we finally had a solution to the issue of police redistricting for Baltimore — the Northeast District in particular. Following the unanimous passage of City Council Resolution 16-0310R, asking for the state to pass legislation in reference to police redistricting, Delegate McCray introduced House Bill 9 in the Maryland House of Delegates. Senator McFadden followed by introducing Senate Bill 112 in the Maryland Senate.

As this year's legislative session began, it seemed as if we were well on our way to having mandated police redistricting. HB9 unanimously passed through the Baltimore City House delegation, then through the House Environment and Transportation Committee with no opposition, and finally it was unanimously passed by the House of Delegates. Following the hearing for SB112, I felt extremely confident that it would move smoothly through the Senate.

However, the hearing proved to be the last official action on SB112. Why? How could a local bill that had the support of every City Council member, the police commissioner and the House of Delegates die in committee? Who could stand in the way of passing a bill that would remedy such a widely agreed upon issue, and why would they do so? These are questions I cannot answer, but I can dismiss some common misconceptions about the legislation.

First, it is important to restate that these bills had unwavering support of the entire City Council and Commissioner Kevin Davis, who said the legislation was needed. Secondly, the bills would have required that the Baltimore Police Department redistrict following each census. This means that there would be no fiscal impact to the city of Baltimore until fiscal year 2021 at the earliest. In addition, the Baltimore Police Department clarified that these bills would not negatively impact the Department of Justice Consent Decree and that, in fact, a staffing study is included in its proposed consent decree budget request. Moreover, it is critically necessary to institute police reform through legislation. Consent decrees are time limited, and the only true way to ensure that reforms live past the life of the consent decree is through legislation. Anyone disputing these truths is engaging in President Donald Trump's new phenomenon of alternative facts.

Passing HB1465 in order to create a Community Policing Steering Committee for Baltimore would have been the first official reform initiated while Baltimore was under a signed consent decree. Just like the redistricting bills, this legislation also had the support of the entire City Council, and Commissioner Davis expressed support for the idea last September. However, despite the bill also passing unanimously through the Baltimore City House Delegation, through the House Judiciary Committee with no opposition and finally through the House of Delegates with a vote of 138-0, the bill never made it out of committee once it reached the Senate. Much like redistricting bills, this legislation was discussed at length with the police department before it was introduced. In fact members of the department shared the bill's goals with the Department of Justice during consent decree negotiations. One could make the connection that this had something to do with Baltimore's consent decree not specifically listing a robust community policing committee as was the case for Ferguson. Why anyone would oppose this bill is beyond me.

Baltimoreans deserve true police reform that includes being at the table with the police leadership and unions in developing a true community policing strategy. Moreover, Baltimoreans deserve to have policies that will ensure that any reforms made during the length of a finite consent decree last well beyond the careers of all of us currently elected or appointed. Enacting these changes is the duty of all Baltimore's elected officials and is not limited to one person, office or agency

If the Baltimore City Council could do it alone we would, but we cannot. However, as chair of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, I pledge to work with all of my partners in government to make these much needed actions a reality. We may not have achieved our goals during this session, but eventually we will. For now, however, we are left to ponder who opposed these simple yet needed pieces of legislation and why.

Brandon M. Scott is a Baltimore City councilman and the chair of the councils Public Safety Committee; his email is Brandon.Scott@baltimorecity.gov.

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