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Activist DeRay Mckesson pushes Baltimore County police chief over opposition to police reform bill

Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson pressed Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt on her lack of support for a failed county police reform bill during a county-organized discussion Tuesday evening.

The county legislation, proposed by Councilman Julian Jones and tabled by the County Council this month, “was sort of light work” in the way of reform, said Mckesson, a Baltimore City native and co-founder of Campaign Zero, a national policy platform to end police violence.

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Jones’ bill would have banned the practice of chokeholds, which are not taught in county officers’ training, and would have required officers to provide or call for medical aid in certain circumstances. Officers would also have been required rely on mental health professionals, among other de-escalation tactics.

The bill would also have required officers intervene when another officer uses excessive force and protect officers who report when another officer uses physical force that injures the citizen involved in the incident. The legislation would also have required more training to identify bias and to show officers how to use de-escalation techniques before relying on lethal force.

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Halfway through an hour-and-a-half long panel discussion, Mckesson addressed Hyatt and David Rose, president of Baltimore County’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4, telling them it was disconcerting to hear them promote the department’s “commitment to community and solutions” when those solutions “were put forth before the County Council and neither one of you supported them wholeheartedly.”

Hyatt, who said she is “reform-oriented and progressive,” said she did not support the county legislation because she did not want to potentially supersede or conflict with a police reform bill likely to be taken up during the next General Assembly session.

“It’s really important that county law isn’t conflicting with state law,” Hyatt said to a virtual panel moderated by Farajii Muhammad, host of “For the Culture with Farajii” on Morgan State University’s WEAA 88.9.

And, she added, all stakeholders need to be brought to the table, a sentiment she has repeated when talking about Jones’ bill.

Jones, however, said that while he spoke at length with Rose about the bill, he “did not get the same cooperation” from Hyatt, who he said would not offer amendments or thoughts on the bill prior to a council work session.

During a hearing on Jones’ bill, Hyatt told the council her department’s ability to recruit more officers “will be nonexistent” and their retention “would deteriorate rapidly and drastically,” she said, if the proposal is enacted as written with the intention of criminally punishing officers who violated any of the bill’s requirements.

“What are the things you didn’t support in Councilman Jones’ bill you don’t think will be in the state [bill]?” Mckesson asked Hyatt during Tuesday’s panel.

State Sen. William C. Smith Jr. is proposing a sweeping set of reforms, including banning violent police tactics, making disciplinary records public and ending the purchase of military equipment for officers, along with other measures that have languished in the state legislature for years.

“I don’t want to go tit for tat with pieces in the bill,” Hyatt said, adding she was concerned about the “confusion that happens between policy violation and when policy violation becomes legal infractions.”

The state reform package, like policing measures by Hyatt and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, were announced in June after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

Hyatt noted during the panel discussion she had made several changes to police policy that the department had already been practicing but that hadn’t been codified — like requiring an officer to intervene when they witness cases of excessive force.

The panel was organized by the Baltimore County Office of Diversity and Equity, the Baltimore County Public Library and the Baltimore County Human Relations Commission.

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