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New bill would create Howard County Police Accountability Board, establish independent department oversight

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball on Thursday pre-filed legislation that would create a Police Accountability Board, which would receive complaints about police misconduct from the public and work with the Howard County Police Department and Howard County Sheriff’s Office.

“Focusing on public safety and reinforcing public trust remains a priority of my administration, and this Police Accountability Board is a critical component to ensure transparency,” Ball said in a statement. “This board is an important tool to engage our residents in matters of policing and adds another layer of accountability.”

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The board would receive complaints of police misconduct from members of the public and review the outcomes of police disciplinary matters, according to the legislation. Complaints filed with the board would be forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agency within three business days.

It would be comprised of five voting members, who would be appointed by Ball and need to be confirmed by the County Council, according to the bill. These appointed members would have to be Howard County residents, at least 25 years old, and have some knowledge of criminal justice and government agencies. The bill stipulates that residents who are active police officers, county or sheriff employees, or have been convicted of a felony are prohibited from serving on the board.

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The board would also include two nonvoting members who would be designees of Police Chief Lisa Myers and Sheriff Marcus Harris.

Myers anticipates the board will “reassure the community” that the county police department is an “agency of integrity and equity” and said she welcomes its creation.

“We have long-held policies of zero tolerance for misconduct and are committed to operating with transparency,” Myers said in a statement. “We welcome an independent board to observe firsthand the high standards we hold for every officer and share with us if there are any situations in which they believe we are not living up to those principles.”

According to the bill, the board would hold quarterly meetings with heads of law enforcement agencies and work with those agencies and county government to improve policing in Howard. The board would also be required to submit an annual report to the county that identifies trends in disciplinary action against law enforcement and makes policy recommendations to improve police accountability.

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“Building a strong relationship between law enforcement and the community that we serve is vital,” Harris said in a statement. “The Police Accountability Board will help build this relationship by holding our deputies responsible and providing the level of transparency that the community deserves.”

The bill states that Ball would propose a budget for the board that would be included in the county’s annual budget approved by the County Council.

Several sweeping police reform laws passed earlier this year by the Maryland General Assembly are aimed at creating greater transparency and accountability, including an independent unit with the Office of the Attorney General that will investigate police incidents that involve the death of a civilian and that when misconduct complaints are made against officers, they will be public.

One of the new laws also mandates that all police agencies in Maryland have to adopt body-camera use by July 1, 2025. Howard County has already approved full funding for its body-worn camera program last month, with hopes to launch it by May of next year.

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