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In Baltimore County, curbing police misconduct is vital | READER COMMENTARY

Baltimore County’s Police Equity Advisory Group last year released a 41-page report that details recommendations for police reform measures. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media).
Baltimore County’s Police Equity Advisory Group last year released a 41-page report that details recommendations for police reform measures. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media). (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore County Police Department began recruiting residents to serve on police disciplinary trial boards in November. This change to police misconduct investigations marks the first involvement of civilians in the process, which, in theory, should lead to greater accountability of law enforcement officers. Unfortunately, there has been little done to share this information with residents through the press or social media and no transparency about the application and selection process.

The message this sends is that BCPD does not want residents to know about the trial boards and does not take civilian involvement in misconduct investigations seriously (”Baltimore County Police fire officer convicted of rape after judge sentences him to home detention,” Nov. 24). In fact, the inclusion of civilians on trial boards is the outcome of a memorandum of understanding the BCPD and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, which allows the department to delay the full implementation of its police accountability board and administrative charging committee for a year. The timing of the memo’s approval, immediately following the passage of the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, was no coincidence. Its purpose is to extend the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which was struck down by the Act until July of 2023.

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The LEOBR ensures that police misconduct complaints rarely result in consequences by governing the process for police discipline in Maryland and protecting police officers from prosecution. It gives special rights to police officers that other state employees do not have and it prevents communities from investigating misconduct that could lead to discipline. Maryland was the first state to pass such a law.

The legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly last session drew support from people of all races and faiths in our county who believe Black lives matter. Legislators agreed that it was time to reform police misconduct in Maryland, but the work did not end with the passage of the legislation. Residents who are concerned about justice for all and police violence now have the opportunity to be involved in oversight which will only be effective with their participation.

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The police accountability board is critical to true police accountability because it enables citizens to participate in oversight of the department. The Baltimore County government must create, staff and fund a board by July of next year. It will be responsible for receiving, tracking and reporting on allegations of police misconduct. Although it will not be able to appoint civilians to charging committees or trial boards for a year, it will be responsible for these activities in July 2023.

The League of Women Voters of Baltimore County is hosting a panel discussion Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. via Zoom during which representatives from the Randallstown NAACP, CASA, the student member of the Baltimore County Board of Education and a mental health specialist will discuss the importance of these police reforms in Baltimore County. I urge the public to learn more about these police reforms which will have significant impacts on people of color who are disproportionately impacted by police misconduct.

Ericka McDonald, Catonsville

The writer is co-president of the League of Women Voters, Baltimore County.

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