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Vote against police reform in Baltimore County disappointing | COMMENTARY

Baltimore County police investigate the scene of a fatal shooting earlier this summer.
Baltimore County police investigate the scene of a fatal shooting earlier this summer. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun)

In a disappointing turn of events last week, the Baltimore County Council failed to pass an expansive and important police reform bill. By doing so, they sent the message that police chokeholds do not need to be banned, that our tax dollars can be wasted on lawsuit settlements and that our elected representatives in local government are not paying attention to our voices.

Earlier this year, George Floyd’s horrific murder at the hands of police in Minneapolis exemplified an example of abuse of power by law enforcement toward people of color that unfortunately is not rare. Since then, many Americans nationally, including Baltimore County residents, have sought police reform. It was this energy that compelled Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones to introduce a police reform bill.

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This common sense legislation would have mandated expanding training for law enforcement officers, including de-escalation techniques, implicit association and inherent bias. It would have prohibited use of chokeholds, limited use of physical force, and required officers to call for medical aid in certain circumstances. It would have implemented practices that promote safer methods of community policing and help restore trust in law enforcement.

During a virtual work session on July 28, Councilman Jones’ bill was extensively discussed by council members, the county police chief, Baltimore County state’s attorney, and members of the public. Of the more than 50 witnesses of diverse backgrounds, races and religions who testified, the vast majority spoke passionately in overwhelming support of the measure.

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This only underscores council members Tom Quirk, Todd Crandell, David Marks and Cathy Bevins’ decision to vote to table the bill as failed leadership. It should cause their constituents and members of the public to question their integrity, commitment and moral courage. Their failure to pass this bill will continue to undermine community trust in policing practices and risk jeopardizing the safety of people of color.

Unfortunately, there have been too many incidents in the greater Baltimore region and around the country involving misconduct by police officers. Increased accountability and training helps them fulfill the oath they took upon becoming an officer: the oath to protect and serve.

Bill 73-20 is a necessary part of the equation for police reform in Baltimore County. For many residents of Baltimore County who have done nothing wrong, but yet are still traumatized or fear for their lives at even the sight of police, this measure would have enabled officers to truly protect and serve all of our diverse communities. It would not only have prevented the loss of more innocent lives, but would also have been an important step toward mending a broken system of policing.

We strongly support the call for Baltimore County to take police reform and accountability seriously in order to improve the public safety of every resident in this county and to help repair relationships between law enforcement agencies and the communities that they serve. Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski and Police Chief Melissa Hyatt have taken significant steps to shift policing in Baltimore County in a more positive direction. However, these steps cannot be solidified if there is no legislation to mandate their efforts of protecting the community and well-being of police officers.

Councilman Jones’ bill was the first step to providing the Baltimore County Police Department with a blueprint for an impartial and accountable police system. We praise his courage and leadership, along with Council members Izzy Patoka and Wade Kach who voted on the right side of history.

People of all backgrounds are speaking with a collective voice, demanding change. We urge County Executive Olszewski and members of the Baltimore County Council to demonstrate principled leadership, exhibit moral courage and pay attention to the message we bring. The time for police reform in our county is now.

Yasmeen El-Koshairi and Nusrat Tusi are interns with the Council on American-Islamic Relations Office in Maryland. They can be reached at mdintern@cair.com.

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