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Community oversight panel discusses goals for Baltimore police improvements

Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday she wants a newly appointed civilian oversight panel to recommend ways to improve the relationship between the Baltimore Police Department and the public, offer cultural diversity training and better recruit officers from within the city.

Pugh named nine people to the Community Oversight Task Force this week. The task force was required by the consent decree the city reached with the U.S. Department of Justice to force the police to address widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory practices.

"I trust them to make great decisions," said Pugh, joined by some task force members at City Hall. "They have a lot of work ahead of them."

Among the volunteer members is the Rev. Marvin McKenstry of West Baltimore's Victory House of Worship.

"My personal goal is to serve the city that I love and bring a different perspective ... the perspective of the people to the conversations that we need to have," said McKenstry, 42, who also helps young people find jobs and volunteers for several endeavors.

"I want to bring the citizen's voice," he said.

The task force members were selected from more than 100 applicants. Pugh said the consent decree required her to appoint five members to the task force by July 1, but she asked the Justice Department to expand the task force to nine members.

They must work at least 10 hours a month for the next eight months, soliciting information from city agencies, community members and organizations to help develop a road map for the city to meet the requirements of the consent decree, Pugh said.

Before their report is finalized, Pugh said their ideas will be presented to the public for feedback.

Former state Sen. Ralph Hughes, 69, of Mondawmin said the task force also will evaluate the effectiveness of the Civilian Review Board, which investigates complaints against police. For years, the board has been criticized for being ineffective and powerless.

"What can we do to improve it?" he asked. "What recommendations can we make to the General Assembly to improve the Civilian Review Board?"

Appointees also include attorney Denise Duval, retired police Col. Edward Jackson, political science professor Danielle Kushner and school mediation coordinator Daniel Levine. Other members are Valencia Johnson and Andrew Reinel. A ninth member still has to be named.

Jackson, who retired from the Police Department in 2004, said he believes a response by law enforcement is appropriate only when interventions by family, community and faith-based groups fail to address a problem.

"I want to see the city and the Police Department that I so love and was proud to serve get better," Jackson said. "The only way it's going to get better is, we have look at how police officers are trained, how they approach problems.

"We even have to evaluate whether every social problem in Baltimore requires a police response."

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