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Gun Trace Task Force commission gets briefed on new Baltimore police civilian oversight plan

The legislative panel investigating the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal was pitched Monday on a new plan for community oversight regarding officer misconduct.

Danielle Kushner told members of the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing that a new, 25-member police accountability commission should supplant the city’s civilian review board and be given expanded powers.

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“We’re completely re-imagining the system of police oversight,” said Kushner, who was part of the Community Oversight Task Force created as part of the federal consent decree process for reforming the city Police Department. “The civilian review board that’s been in place for two decades just doesn’t work.”

Kushner’s comments came before a legislative panel that will make recommendations to the state about how to address the fallout of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.

Eight city police officers were convicted and are either serving federal prison sentences or awaiting sentencing for robbing citizens for years. The officers lied in official paperwork, and searched people without probable cause or warrants. Some of the officers stole and re-sold drugs they took from suspects.

Kushner said the Police Department should be returned to local control, as some in the city delegation have proposed, and that transparency regarding police misconduct remains a key problem.

Under state law, complaints against officers and the outcome of those complaints remain hidden from the public. Some of the Gun Trace Task Force officers had faced serious and repeated claims of misconduct, and what if anything was done is largely unknown.

“If an officer has been accused of misconduct but nobody in the community knows, there can be no accountability without transparency,” said Kushner, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The Community Oversight Task Force recommended creating a 25-member oversight body, composed of members selected by the mayor, City Council members and the community. The panel, called the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, would have jurisdiction over misconduct complaints, and could initiate investigations if problems are spotted but there are no formal complaints filed, she said.

The new body also would be able to appeal the police commissioner’s decisions regarding officer discipline.

Members of the state’s Commission to Restore Trust in Policing seemed skeptical of the plan. They asked questions about how the new body might conflict with state law affording officers due process in disciplinary matters, and how it would wrestle with jurisdictional issues regarding serious complaints.

“I’m struggling to figure out which cases go to IAD [internal affairs] and which cases go to this,” said Gary McLhinney, a former longtime city police union president and a member of the state legislative commission.

Inez Robb, a West Baltimore resident who is the president of the Western District Police Community Relations Council and on the commission, said: “With all this, do you think you’ll get more people to apply to be a police officer?”

Kushner told the commission that the reforms were needed.

“Trust in the police is currently so low that we have to have an entity that at least initially is responsible for conducting its own investigations,” she said.

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