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Baltimore County councilman pushes for police reform, including ban on chokeholds

Baltimore County councilman Julian Jones announces legislation to ban the use of chokeholds and other police reforms.
Baltimore County councilman Julian Jones announces legislation to ban the use of chokeholds and other police reforms. (Wilborn P. Nobles III)

Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones wants the council to pass legislation banning the use of chokeholds by police — among other reforms — in the wake of protests against police misconduct.

Jones introduced the legislation at the Liberty Family Resource Center Friday morning surrounded by community leaders. Saying “enough is enough,” the Woodstock Democrat recalled several high-profile deaths involving police in his district.

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The proposal comes as police departments worldwide begin to ban chokeholds in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, which sparked weeks of protests worldwide. Police use of force is a focus of the Black Lives Matter and 8 Can’t Wait campaigns. Jones is the only black member of County Council.

Citing the need for reform, Jones drew attention to Chris Brown, a 17-year-old from Randallstown who was choked to death in 2012. Officer James D. Laboard, who was off duty at the time, was acquitted of criminal charges in Brown’s death.

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Jones also mentioned Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old Randallstown woman who was shot and killed by county police in 2016. Cpl. Royce Ruby — the officer who killed Gaines and injured her then-5-year-old son, Kodi — was never criminally charged after prosecutors deemed the shooting legally justified.

The legislation would require officers intervene when another officer uses excessive force. The legislation would also require more training to identify bias and to show officers how to use de-escalation techniques before relying on lethal force.

Officers who have resigned or been fired in relation to disciplinary proceedings would be ineligible for employment in the department under Jones’s legislation. The proposal would limit officers to use “the minimum degree of force” necessary to achieve an arrest or “other lawful objectives” under the law.

“I value and respect the great men and women of the Baltimore County Police Department, but the training and policies must change,” Jones said.

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Dave Rose, president of Baltimore County Police FOP Lodge 4, said the police union is ready to assist the council and the county administration in the conversations regarding changes in the department. He condemned the “inexcusable” use of force from the officers involved in Floyd’s death.

The union needs to ensure the legislation is understandable and practical, Rose said. It’s unrealistic, for instance, for officers to go “through a checklist of five things in a split-second situation,” Rose said. He also stressed the department doesn’t teach chokeholds for use as a restraint, though he acknowledges officers are taught a version of a chokehold to learn how to escape from it.

Rose said use of force and internal affairs complaints have been declining over the last decade in the county. He doesn’t know if it’s necessary to ban neck restraints because chokeholds should only be used in “deadly force situations for it to be justified,” he said, similar to how “firing your handgun” should only occur “when you have no other means” to address a dangerous situation.

“I’m not opposed to any legislation, but I know some of the things as written in [the legislation] are very difficult to follow and we would oppose just because they’re not practical to put into effect in real-life situations,” he said.

Jones said the footage of Floyd’s death didn’t show a situation “where a police officer had to make a split-second decision.” Brown’s aunt, Charlene Charvin, said her nephew wouldn’t have died if the proposed legislation had been in place.

Officer Laboard would’ve at least known how to perform CPR, she added, or he would’ve been charged with murder for Brown’s death.

“If we codify this [bill into law], I will feel his death was not in vain,” Charvin said.

Jones’s bill would also require officers to provide or call for medical aid in certain circumstances. Officers would also be required rely on mental health professionals, among other de-escalation tactics.

The 12-page bill would also protect officers who would be required to report when another officer uses physical force that injures the citizen involved in the incident. The required reporting includes an officer’s use of firearms, batons, clubs, stun guns, tear gas, pepper sprays, dogs, and “a vehicle intervention.”

Jones’s bill calls for the use of an “early intervention system” to identify officers who are at risk for misconduct, and to provide those officers with retraining or reassigning to eliminate that risk. A public database on excessive use of force among police would also be created as part of the intervention system.

Baltimore County in the past few years has faced scrutiny for actions taken by responding police. The county has racial disparities in traffic stops, and the U.S. Department of Justice sued the county, alleging written tests for officer recruits was biased against African Americans.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat whose youngest brother serves in the police department, joined Police Chief Melissa Hyatt last week to introduce measures requiring officers to report unnecessary use of force. The county is also establishing a public database on police complaints and traffic stops.

Hyatt said in a statement she has some concerns with the proposed bill, and she’s planning to discuss them with Councilman Jones.

“I look forward to working with our stakeholders as we navigate through this critical time in order to move our organization and the community we serve into the future together,” Hyatt said.

The county, meanwhile, is hiring an outside party to analyze recruitment. Last year, Olszewski also established a work group to examine discriminatory practices by the police department’s predominantly white male workforce.

Olszewski said in a statement that the county is committed to “community based policing” and measures designed to “increase transparency, expand accountability, and modernize law enforcement tactics in Baltimore County.”

“My administration welcomes the opportunity to continue this important conversation with community stakeholders, law enforcement leaders and the Council about how we can further strengthen the relationship between the police department and the communities they serve,” Olszewski said.

Jones expects to introduce the bill at council’s July 6th meeting.

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