The Baltimore County Council on Monday confirmed eight initial members of the county’s first-ever police accountability board, including a former police officer, a social worker, a registered nurse, and community and faith leaders.
The members were nominated by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and confirmed nearly unanimously by the council.
Only one nominee received a “no” vote from a council member: the Rev. Clare Petersberger, longtime minister for the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, who spoke about her desire to evaluate issues of racial justice in policing as a member of the board. Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, was the lone vote against Petersberger, so she was confirmed.
A state law passed during the 2021 General Assembly session required all counties in Maryland to establish police accountability boards, which would review complaints of police misconduct from members of the public, review disciplinary outcomes from police departments and appoint civilian members for administrative charging committees and trial boards for police officers.
In Baltimore County, the board will include one representative from each of the county’s seven districts and two at-large members. The county executive’s office received about 40 applications for the jobs and made nine selections, according to a news release from the office.
The ninth nominee for the board, Francis Ward of Nottingham, is set to be considered at the council’s next meeting, Sept. 27, and will receive a vote Oct. 3. He could not attend a previous meeting where nominees were interviewed by the council due to a family emergency, said Thomas Bostwick, the council’s secretary and legislative counsel.
Ward is a former Baltimore County 911 dispatcher and current district court constable who also serves as a volunteer firefighter, Olszewski’s office said in a news release.
During a County Council meeting last week, Petersberger, who served as a volunteer chaplain for the county police and fire departments for about 10 years, spoke about hanging Black Lives Matter signs at her church only to have them vandalized several times. She also said cases like that of Korryn Gaines, who was shot by county police in 2016, show “we need new strategies for addressing acts of racial harm, or harm caused by excessive force by police officers, or a lack of training on how to de-escalate mental health crises.”
Her comments received a response from Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican.
“This board, in my vision of it anyway, is that it is a judicial or a quasi-judicial board — not a platform of social activism,” Crandell said.
“I do not envision coming to police accountability board meetings waving banners or chanting slogans,” Petersberger said in response. “I do bring a passion for justice, and racial justice is part of that, as we’ve been hearing across the United States for several years. And if that’s not what you want on this board, I will be happy to recuse myself.”
Crandell ultimately voted to approve Petersberger’s nomination for the board.
After Petersberger referenced statistics that indicated a majority of complaints from the public against police officers are lodged by members of minority groups, Kach spoke as well.
“In many other jurisdictions, those numbers are a lot worse,” he said. “And so I think that our Baltimore County Police are headed in the right direction.”
During last week’s council meeting, police accountability advocates expressed concern about the nomination of John Chambers, who Olszewski’s office said is a retired Baltimore City police officer who currently serves as senior operations supervisor for external public safety at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“We caution that even an appearance of bias will undermine the credibility of the board,” said Cindy Farquhar, who spoke on behalf of the Baltimore County Coalition for Police Accountability. “This new police accountability board must be civilian-led, and a clear departure from the police policing themselves.”
Chambers, a Woodlawn native who resides in Randallstown, said his 24 years of experience on Baltimore City’s police force would help him better understand officers’ perspectives while handling cases of alleged misconduct.
“I understand that you can have a good officer and you can have a bad officer,” he said. “I’m not going to side straight across the board with the police. If it’s right, it’s right. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”
Several council members said during the meeting that they felt the accountability board would benefit from Chambers’ experience in law enforcement.
“I’m very happy that we’re going to have a former police officer on this board because it’s always beneficial to have someone on the board that has experienced the profession that we’re looking at,” Kach said.
The new state law prohibits active police officers from serving on the boards but does not forbid former officers from participating. The legislation allows local governing bodies to set further rules about the membership of the board. In May, the Baltimore County Council unanimously voted to establish the board, but also voted 4-3 to restrict people convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors from serving on the board for 10 years.
The move drew criticism from police accountability advocates in the county, who also unsuccessfully pushed for the board to include additional components, such as an independent legal counsel. The county attorney, who also represents county police officers, will serve as the board’s legal adviser, although board members can request that the county seek outside counsel in cases where there is a conflict, according to the law establishing the board.
District 1: Peter Fitzpatrick, a Catonsville resident, is a registered nurse with Children’s National Hospital who supervises operations of the air and ground pediatric team, according to the county executive’s office. He also served as a paramedic and firefighter with the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company. Before the County Council, Fitzpatrick spoke about the help his family received from the county’s behavioral health crisis team, a collaboration between the county police department and health department, when his eldest son was struggling with addiction and mental health problems. After his son died from an overdose, Fitzpatrick said he felt compelled to volunteer for the board in his memory — to help other families feel comfortable accessing the same care from police officers.
District 2: Linda Shields, a Pikesville resident, has 22 years of experience as an attorney, most recently serving as an assistant city solicitor assigned to the Baltimore Police Department’s Internal Affairs and Public Integrity Division, according to the county executive’s office. In cases involving officers, Shields said she was “always one to strive for fairness for all parties to ensure that the citizens are confident in their police department.”
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District 3: Bishop Ralph Dennis of Sparks is senior pastor emeritus at Kingdom Worship Center in South Towson, where he served as senior pastor for 35 years before retiring. Dennis previously worked in the private sector at companies such as Exxon and Frito Lay Inc. Dennis said he hopes the board can “bridge the gaps” between police and communities. “I feel very honestly that I’m a pretty strong change agent,” he said before the county council.
District 4: John Chambers is a retired Baltimore City Police officer who currently serves as senior operations supervisor for external public safety at Johns Hopkins Medicine. During his 24-year tenure with city police, Chambers, a Woodlawn native who resides in Randallstown, served in patrol, in water patrol and as a community liaison, according to the county executive’s office. “I understand that you can have a good officer and you can have a bad officer,” he said before the council. “I’m not going to side straight across the board with the police.”
District 5: Francis Ward of Nottingham served as a 911 police dispatcher with Baltimore County for 30 years, and is currently a district court constable. Ward has also been active with numerous volunteer fire companies, including Providence Volunteer Fire and White Marsh Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as first lieutenant, according to the county executive’s office.
District 6: The Rev. Clare Petersberger of Towson has been minister of the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church since 1999, according to the county executive’s office. She was a volunteer chaplain for the Baltimore County Fire and Police Departments for over 10 years and is a former board member of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, according to the county executive’s office. Before the County Council, Petersberger said cases like that of Korryn Gaines, who was shot by police in the county in 2016, show “we need new strategies for addressing acts of racial harm, or harm caused by excessive force by police officers, or a lack of training on how to de-escalate mental health crises.” She also spoke about how she hung a Black Lives Matter banner at her church, and it was vandalized multiple times.
District 7: Dawn Dishon-Feuer of Dundalk is a frequent volunteer in her community, including with the Essex Day Festival, Holabird Middle School PTSA, Dundalk Independence Day Parade Committee, Eastern Regional Lions Club and Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, according to the county executive’s office. She is an office manager and personal assistant at Santoro Psychological Services in Howard County, which specializes in forensic psychology for high-conflict divorce cases, she said. “In those cases, at work, we do not presume anyone is lying. We also do not presume anyone is telling the truth. So I feel like that is a very important perspective,” she said before the County Council.
At-large: Kara White of Parkville is a social worker with five years of experience who currently works with Baltimore County Adult Protective Services. In this role, White works with police to investigate allegations of abuse by caregivers and family members. Before the council, White said the board should “shine a public light on the actual punishments that police face when misconduct does occur” and also address ”mental health services of our officers when false reports of misconduct are made against them.” She lives in District 6 in Parkville.
At-large: Nigeria Rolling-Ford, a paralegal living in Randallstown, is president of the Kings Park Homeowners Association and communications chair of the Randallstown NAACP. Speaking before the council, Rolling-Ford expressed concern that Black community members shy away from calling the police when incidents occur, and spoke about building trust between the community and the police department. “It really has to be a more concerted effort for everyone to just feel as though we’re working towards a common goal,” Rolling-Ford said.