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Anne Arundel council passes amended law enforcement support resolution after dozens of residents weigh in

The Anne Arundel County Council passed a resolution supporting local law enforcement officers Monday night after controversial clauses were amended out and added language encouraging policy change and other efforts to move local law enforcement practices toward increased equity, transparency and mutual trust.

The vote came after a lengthy public comment period and a tense discussion among councilmembers, the county sheriff and the acting police chief. The resolution is non-binding and acts as a joint statement from the council. It passed unanimously.

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The resolution was introduced by Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, at the request of Anne Arundel County Sheriff Jim Fredericks. It was introduced at the Nov. 2 meeting, but a motion to suspend the rules to hear and vote on the resolution that night failed along party lines, with some Democratic councilmembers advocating for a hearing with advance notice.

The discussion about the role of law enforcement in Anne Arundel County came just a few hours after County Executive Steuart Pittman announced the selection of Hyattsville Police Chief Amal Awad to lead the county police force. If confirmed by the County Council, Awad will be the first person of color in the job and the first woman to serve permanently.

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In a release announcing her selection, Pittman said she worked hard to implement modern policing strategies. During a call with reporters Monday, Awad said she supports implementing a civilian review board and is eager to build trust in the community.

Many of the dozens of residents who wrote to the council in opposition to the law enforcement support resolution specifically identified a clause disavowing “efforts to delegitimize” law enforcement as a reason for their opposition. Councilwoman Lisa Brannigan Rodvien, D-Annapolis, introduced an amendment to remove that clause. Rodvien is the only council member who did not initially co-sponsor the legislation.

She said she supports law enforcement, but “there is still a lack of trust that needs to be addressed. There are still experiences, especially in communities of color, when they interact with police, that are not positive.”

Rodvien pointed to the expected implementation of police body cameras and other law enforcement efforts to build trust in the community.

“Those experiences, even though they might be a small number, unfortunately, have a really devastating impact to that trust," she said.

Volke was the only council member to vote against the amendments.

Among more than two dozen residents who provided live audio testimony was Steven Waddy, political action chair of the local NAACP, who warned that passing the resolution would lead to further polarization in the community.

Though several dozen residents wrote to the council to support the resolution, all the residents who spoke at the meeting opposed it.

In written testimony, many supporters of the bill cited positive experiences with police, history of employment in law enforcement, or close relationships with law enforcement officers.

Annapolis resident Marcia Lee Diehl noted that in her experience with local law enforcement, officers have always been “courteous, prompt, helpful, resolute, and essential for the times I have needed to give them my calls.”

She expressed concern about the current “cultural climate” and wrote, “there is nothing controversial about law enforcement.”

Other business

The council also unanimously passed a resolution congratulating the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections for conducting a successful election during the coronavirus pandemic. The council also passed a bill renaming the Anne Arundel Animal Care and Control; defining data storage centers and outlines where they are allowed to be in the county; expanding the uses in the Snug Harbor Special Community Benefit District, and appropriating supplementary funds for the North Beach Park Special Community Benefit District.

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The council amended bill 69-20, legislation updating the way agritourism events are regulated at county farms. The bill changes the maximum number of special events per year, and in most cases, would limit capacity based on the acreage of the site. The bill also would expand the type of events allowed to include “historical and cultural” events. The bill adds a definition for “Farm or Agricultural Heritage Site Special Events” to include parties, receptions and weddings.

Two successful amendments came from Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater. One requires a person to have owned a farm property for the two immediately preceding years and have been actively farming for that time period to be eligible for temporary use, conditional use or special exception. Another amendment requires the Office of Planning and Zoning to provide annual updates to the County Council about agritourism in the county. The report would need to include the number of temporary uses, conditional uses, and special exception uses granted; for temporary use, the number of people attending a farm or agricultural heritage site special event and the acreage of the site; and the number of complaints received each year and a description of the nature of the complaints.

The bill was introduced on Sept. 8 and must be passed before Dec. 12, or it expires. The council will hear the bill again at the Dec. 7 meeting.

They also amended a bill that defines public nuisance properties as properties where five or more serious crimes occur within 30 days. The amendments would require crimes to happen on the property and would prohibit legal action by the county if the owner is actively worked to relieve the situation on the property.

The council also opted to hold a bill relating to public ethics and plan review timelines and site development requirements until the Dec. 7 meeting.

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