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Put civilians on Baltimore police trial boards

FOP says having civilians on trial boards is like having non-physicians judging malpractice. Which they do.

We are glad to hear that Mayor Catherine Pugh's administration and the U.S. Department of Justice are nearing agreement on an enforceable consent decree to resolve problems identified by the federal civil rights investigation into the Baltimore Police Department. Such an agreement is absolutely essential in rebuilding trust between the community and the police, and we fear that if Baltimore doesn't get one in front of a judge before Donald Trump is inaugurated president, it won't happen at all.

But a big problem remains. One of the most crucial reforms Mayor Pugh says will be in the consent decree is that civilians serve on trial boards that determine the outcome of officer misconduct cases. The current system in which only fellow police stand in judgment of officers accused of excessive use of force and other complaints creates the appearance, if not the reality, that cops will protect their own.

However, Baltimore's police union has consistently objected to that idea, and this week Fraternal Order of Police President Gene Ryan said even a consent decree won't override the city's collective bargaining agreement, which is under negotiation but which currently prohibits civilian participation. And he's probably right about that. The agreement in principle the city signed with the DOJ in August includes the caveat, "The Department of Justice acknowledges that the City and BPD are subject to state law and collective bargaining obligations." And similar consent decrees the DOJ has entered with other cities often include language explicitly stating that provisions are subject to collective bargaining agreements.

The DOJ's 2016 consent decree with Newark, N.J., for example, calls for the creation of a civilian oversight body "to the extent permitted by law, including civil service rules and any collective bargaining agreements." It attaches similar caveats to reforms related to publishing departmental policies and data on use of force and misconduct complaints, among other things.

This fall, when Ms. Pugh said she would push civilian participation regardless of union contracts, Mr. Ryan dismissed the idea that anyone other than a fellow officer would be qualified to stand in judgment in a police discipline case: "They don't know what we do in our profession. How can they sit in judgment of us? Would you want me sitting on a medical malpractice board when I don't know what a doctor does?"

Actually, non-physicians do sit on the Maryland Board of Physicians. By law, at least seven of the 22 members of that board, which not only handles physician disciplinary cases but also sets licensing requirements, are non-doctors. One must be a physician assistant, one must be "knowledgeable in risk management or quality assurance matters" and five must be consumer-members. Unlike the state law governing civilian participation in trial boards, the statute requires no special knowledge or training for the civilian members of the Board of Physicians. Moreover, the consumer members of the Board of Physicians are prohibited from ever having so much as been in training to be a physician or have household members who are doctors or in training to be doctors. They can't even live in the same house with someone who "participates in a commercial or professional field related to medicine."

And when it comes to the regulatory bodies that determine whether members of various occupations are meeting their professional standards, that's the norm. Consumer-members make up substantial (and voting) portions of Maryland's: Board of Public Accountancy; Acupuncture Board; Board of Architects; Board of Examiners for Audiologists, Hearing Aid Dispensers and Speech-Language Pathologists; Board of Barbers; Board of Chiropractic Examiners; Board of Cosmetologists; Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists; Board of Dental Examiners; Board of Dietetic Practice; Board of Master Electricians; Board for Professional Engineers; Board of Stationary Engineers; Board of Environmental Health Specialists; Board of Foresters; Board of Certified Interior Designers; Board of Examiners of Landscape Architects; Board for Professional Land Surveyors; Board of Massage Therapy Examiners; Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors; Board of Nursing; Board of Examiners of Nursing Home Administrators; Board of Occupational Therapy Practice; Board of Optometry; Board of Pharmacy; Board of Physical Therapy Examiners; Physician Assistant Advisory Committee; Board of Pilots; Board of Plumbing; Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners; Board of Examiners of Psychologists; Commission of Real Estate Appraisers, Appraisal Management Companies and Home Inspectors; Real Estate Commission; Board of Social Work Examiners; Board for Certification of Residential Child Care Program Professionals; and the Board of Individual Tax Preparers.

Ms. Pugh has pledged to advocate for a change in the state law that makes civilian participation in trial boards subject to collective bargaining, though she has noted "the FOP will not be happy with that." No doubt. But as her former colleagues in the General Assembly listen to the inevitable pushback from police unions, they should ask why we require an outside perspective on the conduct of members of virtually every other profession in the state but not the police.

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