About 75 people people gathered a public meeting Tuesday night in West Baltimore to hear from four prospective teams that could be chosen to lead sweeping police reforms in Baltimore.
Many questions at the three-hour long meeting at the Baltimore City Community College Auditorium centered around how the teams would engage with the community.
Mayor Catherine Pugh spoke briefly at the beginning of the forum, thanking residents for their input.
"This is a very important process for us," she said.
Pugh credited the city's law and police departments for their work getting an agreement crafted quickly that will move the community forward.
The public meetings are part of a months-long process to pick an independent monitoring team that will ensure the police department is implementing reforms mandated under a consent decree reached between the city, police department and U.S. Department of Justice earlier this year.
The four finalist teams whose members were questioned on Tuesday are CNA Consulting, Exiger, Powers Consulting Group, and Venable. They were chosen from 26 teams that submitted proposals to the city in June, and followed a round of interviews with city and Justice Department officials this month.
The city, police department and Justice Department are scheduled to recommend one or two finalists to the court next week. Once a monitor is selected, the chosen team will have 90 days to develop a plan to monitor the consent decree.
The remaining four teams are
• CNA, an Arlington, Va., consulting firm, has helped 200 police agencies across the country adopt body-camera programs. It is headed by Rodney Monroe, who retired as Charlotte, N.C.'s police chief in 2015 and is now monitoring a consent decree in Meridian, Miss. The team also includes Johnny Rice, a criminal justice professor at Coppin State University.
• Exiger is led by Jeff Schlanger, a former official in the Manhattan district attorney's office, and includes Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole, whose department is in the process of completing consent decree reforms, and Charles Ramsey, who was previously chief of the Philadelphia and District of Columbia police departments as they underwent similar Department of Justice-ordered reforms.
• The Powers Consulting Group is led by Tyrone Powers, who lives in Baltimore and previously served as a Maryland state trooper and FBI agent, and retired Prince George's County Circuit Judge C. Phillip Nichols.
• Venable is headed by Ken Thompson, a partner at the Baltimore-based law firm, and includes Robert McNeilly, who previously served as Pittsburgh police chief, and Mary Ann Viverette, who served as Gaithersburg's police chief and was the first female president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Before the meeting, 12 individuals and five organizations submitted letters with questions to the finalists, on topics from how they would allocate the funding, to how some teams might handle potential conflicts of interests, to how they would communicate with the community.
One question asked the teams how they planned to interact regularly with city residents to encourage their participation.
Jessica Drake, a member of the Exiger team, said she's already seeking out different leaders in the community and individuals from marginalized communities such as those in transitional programs.
Johnny Rice, a professor at Coppin State University with the CNA team, said it would be able to draw from the campus community and existing partnerships.
Seth Rosenthal with the Venable group pledged to have regular informal meetings with community leaders.
A member of the Powers team noted the team's locally-based members who ledged to make themselves available at all hours and to set up offices around the city to accommodate those who might lack relatable transportation.
Marvin McDowell, who runs the UMAR Boxing gym in West Baltimore said he felt compelled to attend the meeting to keep informed of the process.
McDowell said he's had young men stopped by police outside his gym and unnecessarily detained by officers. He recalled an incident when he came to vouch for the teens and another officer stopped to further question the kids. McDowell said the officer told him they couldn't rely on McDowell's word. Had the officers had a better relationship with the community, McDowell said they would know him and his reputation and could've avoided the whole stop.
"If they only knew the community," he said.
McDowell expressed concern that none of the teams would be effective. Although some touted members who are longtime city residents, McDowell said they didn't have any meaningful connections to the communities that the consent decree must benefit.
"They are talking at us with no direct plan," he said.
Lawrence Grandpre, a member of the group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, supported teams that would be headed by Baltimore residents.
He said he favors the Powers group because of team leader Tyrone Powers' past involvement in the community.
Of the process, he said it's been "very condensed. It's very hard for regular folks to keep up," he said.
Grandpre hopes the chosen monitor will make community engagement a priority.
"We would like to see more people involved," Grandpre said.
The consent decree, approved by a federal judge in April, allocates up to $1.475 million annually over a three-year term to pay for monitoring compliance. It was the result of a wide-ranging Justice Department civil rights investigation ordered after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in police custody.
A second meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Morgan State University Student Center, second floor in Ballroom C, at 1700 East Cold Spring Lane.