The Anne Arundel County Police Accountability Board last month released its first yearly report outlining the status of citizen complaints against police, its recommendations to improve the complaint process and the establishing procedures it conducted in 2022.
The board, an entity required for all counties under the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, has been available to process citizen complaints against law enforcement conduct since July.
In June, its first eight members — Shawn Ashworth, Barney Gomez, Kymberly Jackson, Sarah Kivett, Kenneth Moore, Daniel Watkins, Anne Williams-Kinard, and Jeanette Ortiz — were approved by the Anne Arundel County Council before the ninth and final member, Sharon Elliott, was appointed by Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley to represent the city.
Ortiz, who serves as the board’s chair, said she appreciates the opportunity to serve her community in this capacity, adding her “hope is that the board’s recommendations will help to bring about greater accountability in policing and build trust between the community and law enforcement.”
Two salaried staff members, attorney Janssen Evelyn and Jennifer Rogers, served as the board’s executive director and executive secretary, respectively, last year. Evelyn, who accepted a position as deputy chief administrative officer for County Executive Steuart Pittman in December, will continue serving as executive director until Pittman names a replacement.
A job listing for the position, with a salary range between $109,500 and $192,400, is currently active on the county government’s website. Candidates must be an attorney with three years of relevant experience who is also in good standing with the state.
Since before its formation, the board has been criticized by civil rights leaders for what they’ve described as a “toothless” jurisdiction. Despite its name, the board does not have any oversight or investigative powers over citizen complaints. Instead, when a resident files a complaint against a local law enforcement agency, the complaint is referred to the agency the complaint was made against for an internal investigation.
Once an investigation is complete, its files are forwarded to the county’s administrative charging committee, another creation of the 2021 accountability bill, which determines whether or not to charge the officer. If the committee sustains or verifies a complaint with the evidence of the investigation, it then issues written opinions on the case, as well as recommendations for disciplining the officer.
Possible punishments include a formal written counseling, a letter of reprimand, loss of leave, suspension and loss of pay, demotion or termination.
Once the charging committee issues its decision, the accused officer then has the choice to accept the committee’s punishment, which can only be increased by the respective agency’s chief, or seek a hearing before a trial board, the third and final entity involved in the process. If the officer appeals the trial board’s decision, then the matter is moved to Circuit Court for appeal.
In the board’s first six months of operation, it has responded to 28 complaints against local police forces, including the Anne Arundel County Police Department, the Annapolis Police Department and the Anne Arundel County Sheriff’s Office.
Neither the Anne Arundel Community College Public Safety and Police or Crofton Police departments had any complaints issued against them.
County police received 16 complaints, the most of any local law enforcement agency. According to the 2022 report, five complaints were made against officers for “attentiveness to duty;” four were made for “differential treatment;” three were made for “conduct unbecoming;” and two were filed for both “criminal misconduct” and “excessive force.”
Of these complaints, at the time the report was released, three were sustained, two were exonerated, one was not sustained, another was unfounded and nine were still pending.
The Annapolis Police Department had seven complaints in 2022. Four were for proper performance of duty, two for care of vehicles or traffic law, and one was for discrimination or harassment.
All seven are still under investigation.
No complaints against any agency have yet been referred to the administrative charging committee, according to the report, and no details on the sustained or active complaints were available in it.
County spokesperson Renesha Alphonso did say, however, that a complaint tracker compiling the data presented by police during quarterly updates is “forthcoming.”
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Closing out its report, the board made two recommendations related to transparency. Whereas accountability boards are required by law to forward complaints of police misconduct received from the public to the accused law enforcement agency, there is no similar requirement for the agency to inform the board of a complaint it receives directly.
The board recommended an amendment to the state law requiring agencies to inform their relevant accountability board when it receives a complaint. It also recommended a database, portal or platform be created for local agencies to instantly submit citizen complaints.
The county boards are not the only ones making recommendations for this new process.
Local civil rights leaders have advocated for the passage of Senate Bill 285, which would grant county accountability boards investigatory and subpoena powers and allow them to conduct their own investigation concurrently with a law enforcement agency.
That bill is scheduled for a Feb. 14 hearing in the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee.
The Anne Arundel County Police Accountability Board is scheduled for a listening tour meeting Feb. 27 at Crofton Library. It will take place between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Anyone who would like to speak may register to testify at www.aacounty.org/boards-and-commissions/police-accountability-board/police-accountability-board/event/02/27/2023/pab-listening-tour-western-district.