Though Carroll County’s sheriff and commissioners said they don’t believe the county needs a police accountability board, they are charged by the state with creating one by July 1. On Thursday, they began debating who may be chosen to serve on the board.
Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said members should be thoroughly vetted and anyone who has had an adverse interaction with law enforcement should not be eligible to participate.
“I don’t agree with the entire concept,” DeWees said Thursday. “We don’t have police misconduct in Carroll County. We get very few complaints a year.”
The Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 was enacted by the General Assembly to bring changes to law enforcement throughout the state. Among other requirements, the legislation states that Baltimore City and every Maryland county must form a police accountability board, which will make policy recommendations, review outcomes of disciplinary matters considered by charging committees, and require regular reports of the disciplinary process.
By law, the boards are to be in place by July 1.
Commissioners will pick five county residents to serve on the county’s police accountability board. Up to two members may be former law enforcement officers who retired in good standing and two members will be selected from a list of names from the county chapter of the Maryland Municipal League.
The county must also create an administrative charging committee, which will be responsible for reviewing police internal investigations regarding alleged officer misconduct and determining whether an administrative charge is appropriate. If a charge is appropriate, the committee will schedule a public hearing and make a recommendation.
The chairperson of the police accountability board will serve as a member of the administrative charging committee. Commissioners will appoint two civilian members to that committee and the police accountability board will appoint two more civilian members by majority vote.
“The law requires that the membership of the two boards be designed to reflect somewhat racial, cultural and gender makeup of Carroll County,” county attorney Tim Burke said. “It also prohibits any active law official from sitting on either committee.”
In neighboring Frederick County, the County Council voted earlier this month to require that at least one member of its police accountability board be Black or African American; another member must be a first- or second-generation immigrant.
When asked if Carroll County commissioners would consider similar requirements, Rothstein said he does not believe it’s necessary to ensure a diverse board.
“I want [membership] to be less restrictive,” he said. “The Board of Commissioners have a responsibility to represent the Carroll County community using common sense.”
The commissioner said he is looking forward to hearing feedback on board membership from the public.
In Anne Arundel County, the County Council decided its police accountability board will be composed of nine members, none of whom may be active police officers. The council stated that members should be generally representative of the county’s demographics.
Burke said members shall not have a criminal charge pending or have been convicted, in federal or state court, of a crime punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year and received a prison sentence of more than one year, unless pardoned.
Commissioners debated whether it would be appropriate to allow anyone convicted of a crime to serve on the board or the charging committee.
“In my mind, these are such important boards that I’m not so sure that someone should be on there that has any kind of background,” said Commissioner Stephen Wantz, a District 1 Republican.
Commissioner President Ed Rothstein, a Republican representing District 5, said he was thinking the opposite.
“When [individuals] are released [from prison] and are given a purpose … that reduces recidivism,” Rothstein said.
Commissioner Eric Bouchat agreed with Rothstein.
“We see a lot of individuals that go through addiction, and they tend to be some of the best advocates to help with recovery,” Bouchat, a District 4 Republican, said.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, a Republican representing District 2, pointed out that someone who has served time in prison may subconsciously have animosity toward police officers.
“I really worry about that,” he said. “I think this should be someone who is a citizen in the area that doesn’t have interaction here. … They should be totally objective in this.”
No decisions were made Thursday and Wantz requested that commissioners revisit the discussion of whether to allow residents with any kind of criminal background to serve on the boards after allowing for public comment. No public comments on the topic were offered at Thursday’s meeting.
Officials made it clear that while they will follow state law, they can’t see why the county needs an accountability board.
“I think we’re going down the wrong path on this but we’re stuck,” Bouchat said. “That’s pretty frustrating.”
DeWees said he believes the legislation was passed because of incidents in Baltimore City.
“Deal with the problem where it is,” DeWees said. “It’s not here.”