The Anne Arundel County Council unanimously confirmed Janssen Evelyn as executive director of the county’s newly formed Police Accountability Board Monday night.
County Executive Steuart Pittman announced Evelyn as his appointment to the role early last month. Since then, Evelyn, one of nine applicants, has been working as the board’s executive director in an acting capacity pending his confirmation by the council.
The Police Accountability Board was formed this summer after weeks of fraught debate between civil rights advocates, police advocates and council members on the best way to set up the board. The state legislature mandated every jurisdiction establish a board by July 1.
“The executive director position oversees the staff assigned to the board and serves a critical role ensuring the Police Accountability Board properly handles complaints as well as analyzing police data to make recommendations to law enforcement agencies in the county on policy changes,” said Pete Baron, director of government relations for Pittman.
But the part of the job most exciting to Evelyn is the outreach, speaking with police and community advocates to help them better understand one another and create fairer policing practices. He’s already making the rounds, having met with Steven Waddy, the Anne Arundel County NAACP’s political action chair, and Carl Snowden, convener of the county’s Caucus of African American Leaders, as well as police representatives.
The county legislation creating the executive director position required candidates to be experienced lawyers. It was a job that attracted Evelyn, a lawyer with 14 years of experience who most recently practiced with Baltimore law firm Baker Donelson. After a few years, Evelyn decided private practice wasn’t for him and ventured into local government.
“I just felt like that’s not what I was put on this earth to do, defend corporations,” Evelyn said. “I wanted to feel like I was making a difference.”
At a news conference Tuesday, Pittman expressed pride in the work the board has done so far despite criticism from police accountability advocates that the board lacked investigatory powers. During deliberations, the council declined to give the board the power to review internal reports and evidence, issue subpoenas and interview witnesses.
“[Evelyn is] now spending a lot of time taking calls from other counties asking how to do this, how we’ve done this,” Pittman said. “This is something that when we opened up the process to talk about what our board would look like and made it a very public process through our County Council, it did open up some wounds and it did create some very difficult conversations. I think it was worth doing.”
Evelyn, who will earn $165,000 a year in his new post, worked in Prince George’s County as an associate county attorney and in Howard County as an assistant chief administrative officer and in the county’s Office of Law. He’s worked under Republican and Democratic county executives.
“There are certain jobs that you see and you’re like, ‘Wow that uniquely fits me,’” he said. “They wanted an attorney and they wanted someone who had experience with police and I’m not going to pretend that I’ve ever worn the badge, but I’ve worked in the capacity in two jurisdictions where I interfaced with police and prosecuted trial boards.”
Evelyn was born in Barbados and moved to Prince George’s County when he was a child. He now lives in Columbia in Howard County.
“I think we found a perfect candidate,” said council member Lisa Rodvien, an Annapolis Democrat. “I’m amazed we got one so perfect.”
Candidates went through several layers of review by community groups, county executive staff and County Council representatives, one of whom was Rodvien.
“The county executive took considerable time reviewing applications for the executive director position,” Baron told the council Monday. “It was clear that the nominee before you, Mr. Evelyn, was the right person for the job.”
Evelyn sees great potential in the board. Though he knows change at the government level tends to be slow and sometimes rocky, it will be a worthwhile endeavor.
“I think it will ultimately improve communication between groups that don’t communicate as well or healthily as they should and they both need each other,” he said. “Police are here for the citizens and the citizens have to respect and trust the law enforcement.”
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Evelyn said he can provide perspective to the board as both a government insider and outsider. In addition to his government roles, he’s on the Howard County NAACP’s executive board.
“My role is to make sure the PAB is hearing all the voices from the community from the different perspectives whether it’s the police chief or it’s Mr. Waddy,” Evelyn said, referencing the NAACP member. “Both Mr. Waddy and the police chief have been at multiple PAB meetings already.”
In the immediate future, Evelyn is focusing on selecting members for the Administrative Charging Committee, another link in the chain of how complaints will be dealt with under the Police Accountability Board legislation. Evelyn said that more than130 people have applied to serve on the committee so far.
“It’s going to be hard to go through all those individuals,” he said.
Complaints have been coming into the board since July 1, Evelyn said, and the law enforcement agencies impacted aren’t just in Anne Arundel County.
Once the Administrative Charging Committee is in place, he’ll focus on making sure the Anne Arundel County Police, Sheriff’s Office, Annapolis Police, Crofton Police and Anne Arundel Community College Police are all clear on how reporting to the board works and what the rules and deadlines for reporting are.
The boards in Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties are the furthest along in development, Evelyn said. Anne Arundel’s board will have its fourth meeting next week. Many other counties did not meet the state’s deadline to have the board in place by July 1, Pittman said.