The recently approved consent decree between Baltimore City and the Department of Justice calls for improvements to the city's Civilian Review Board, the independent police oversight agency made up of ordinary citizens.
The only problem: The board doesn't really exist right now.
Due to both the normal turnover that comes with a new administration and some members' three-year term limits expiring, all of the seats on the board have been vacant since Pugh took office.
Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement Jill Carter told City Paper her office screened applications for new members and made recommendations to Mayor Pugh about a month ago, but they are just now in the process of being approved by the mayor's office.
Members of the board may or may not know that they are actually members yet. City Paper first heard about a lack of a Civilian Review Board on Friday, and information on the reasons why it hasn't been selected has been slow-going.
Carter said her office worked hard to do a thorough job of making sure that the right people were recommended to end up on the board.
"We screened them, we interviewed them, we did many background checks," she said. "I was told that they were likely going to go with all our recommendations. I'm hoping and praying they go with our people."
Carter was interested in having a diverse pool of people with different perspectives sitting on the board. That means representatives from each police district, and different ages, backgrounds, and races.
There have been other problems with filling the Civilian Review Board. Ralikh Hayes, coordinator for activist group Baltimore Bloc, said that he submitted an application to be a member, then was later told he had to resubmit—but was given only 24 hours to do resubmit.
"I submitted my application via email to the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement. I submitted it, it was reviewed, and Jill sent her decisions to the mayor," Hayes said. "Someone in Bloc was told that everything was on hold pending the consent decree. When that was signed, the mayor decided to completely relaunch and reformat how the mayor's office operates."
He was busy and didn't have time to make the other deadline, though three other Bloc members did.
Carter said people could have applied directly through her office or through the mayor's office. She said her office contacted some people and suggested they apply directly through the mayor's office to make sure they would be eligible. She also said the delay could be due to the fact that reforms are happening, and change takes time.
Either way, as of right now there is no Civilian Review Board.
Anthony McCarthy, Director of Communications for Mayor Pugh, told City Paper there is "no delay" and that this just takes a long time.
"The mayor has reconstituted all City boards and commissions to open them up for new members. This was a major undertaking with nearly 1,000 submissions for various boards and commissions," McCarthy wrote via email. "The CRB is a priority for the mayor. Recommendations were made. They are under review currently and the mayor plans to name the new board members soon. The goal is to do so prior to the next meeting."
Changes to the Civilian Review Board are happening. When Carter spoke to City Paper for a profile in this week's issue, she said that the board has been under-utilized and under-funded. Also, it was stymied by inconvenient statute of limitation rules and communication problems with the police department.
Carter met last Friday with members of the Baltimore City Police Department to talk about ways to streamline the flow of information from the department to members of the board. And in Annapolis, legislation was approved this week that would extend the time in which citizens could file a complaint—from 90 days to one year. Legislation attempting to make changes to the Law Officers' Bill of Rights failed, however (as an aside: the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police participates in the Civilian Review Board as a non-voting member).
There are still other changes to be made. The consent decree calls for the city to assemble a Community Oversight Task Force within 90 days of the decree being made effective to figure out what those changes need to be.
The first meeting of the new Civilian Review Board, according to Carter, is scheduled for April 20. The mayor's office told Carter that notification letters "are being sent."
And so, the Civilian Review Board's approval is imminent but isn't quite there, even though it meets in a little over the week.
Being on the board, which is a volunteer position, requires a significant amount of work and preparation and responsibility. Members are required to read long and detailed documents in order to make their recommendations.
"They work really hard," Carter said. "They get sent tons and tons of cases."
Additional reporting by Brandon Soderberg.