Baltimore voters overwhelmingly approved local control of city police. So why could it get delayed to 2024?

The residents of Baltimore have waited 163 years to take back control of their city police department.

Now, they may wait at least one more.


The city’s Local Control Advisory Board, the group that Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott charged with implementing the change, recently announced plans for a longer timeline before city authority over the Baltimore Police Department is a reality. Its plan, which the board discussed earlier this month at one of its meetings, would stretch into 2024, despite voters in November approving a referendum on updating the city charter to switch from state to city authority.

The news attracted the ire of police accountability advocates, while resulting in legislation in the Maryland General Assembly with two different approaches to solving the problem.


“People have been fighting and arguing the arguments about local control for over a decade. Essentially, now that we’ve gained the right to vote on it locally, we’ve shown up, we’ve voted and we’ve overwhelmingly said, ‘This is what needs to happen,’ it feels like to us, the can’s getting kicked down the road,” said Ray Kelly of the Citizens Policing Project, a longtime advocate for the change who is also a member of the advisory board.

“We’re just not going to let that happen again,” said Kelly, who cowrote a Baltimore Sun op-ed in opposition to the proposed timeline extension.

City and state officials said at the Local Control Advisory Board meeting on Feb. 3 that they would have a bill introduced in the state legislature to extend the time frame. The legislation would request a final report from the board by January and take the necessary step to remove old language in the charter that’s in conflict with what voters approved, a tweak that would put local control in place October 2024.

But advocacy organizations, working with another lawmaker from the city delegation, are proposing a quicker time frame that would make the change effective as soon as this summer.

Dana Moore, co-chair of the advisory board and the city’s director of the Office of Equity and Civil Rights, backs the 2024 timeline. She said city officials haven’t turned their backs on plans to implement local control and hope to do so as quickly as possible. But staffing issues with the board, a rush to stand up a new police accountability board and ongoing discussions about the format local control should take forced a delay.

“Should we have always realized it was going to take more time? Yes,” said Moore. “I could make a decision about what to do today, but that would be horrible.”

The path forward needs to include ample community input, Moore said, and that, too, will take time.

“We’re going to make this decision one time and we’re going to get it right,” she said.


The return of local control for the Baltimore Police Department has been decades in the making. State lawmakers seized authority in 1860 after an election season marred by political street fights that killed numerous city residents.

In the ensuing decades, multiple efforts by the city to retake control failed. It took until 1976 for the mayor to regain the authority to select the police commissioner — a push made by the city’s Black leaders.

In 2021, state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved legislation allowing the issue to be put to city voters as a proposed charter amendment. The Local Control Advisory Board was convened later that year to draft recommendations for the ballot question and amendment.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the idea, but discussions about what format local control should take remains unresolved. Baltimore could stick with its current model of the City Council and mayor sharing powers or move to a new structure, like the mayor-appointed Board of Police Commissioners used in cities such as Los Angeles.

Moore said she hopes to narrow to three options for models in the next few weeks and then workshop those choices with the public over a 60-day period.

Democratic state Del. Caylin Young of Baltimore, a member of the advisory board and an employee of the city’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights, has introduced a bill in the legislature that would set a December deadline for the board’s final report. The final text of the bill is not yet available, but Young said it would also remove the outdated language from the charter that forbids overriding the authority of the police commissioner.


“We can do things fast or we could do things right,” Young said. “The charge to the advisory board is to make a recommendation to the Council on what the structure is. We need to let the board finish that work and work with the Council and we all work in partnership to get that recommendation across the finish line.”

A December report from the board summarizing its work so far said efforts to transfer control of the Baltimore Police Department from the state to the city “stem from a strong desire for representative democracy and policy accountability.”

It said past efforts faced roadblocks over concerns about what would happen upon transfer without a “specific understanding or plan of action for financial liability and models of management.”

The report detailed four Maryland jurisdictions’ models for control, some of which granted local legislative bodies the power to pass legislation governing their police departments. Baltimore County and Montgomery County’s county councils have it, while the Anne Arundel County Council’s powers are limited to contracts, pensions, budget and pay matters, not police policy. Prince George’s County, it said, has not exercised power to legislate policy, but has filed bills about labor contracts and budgeting. As with the Baltimore mayor, the four county executives nominate police chiefs who need the councils’ confirmation.

Some advocates want a quicker turnaround on granting the city authority over the department, and say it would be possible to make the necessary statutory change even without a final decision on what form or model is the best fit. The debate, in essence, is whether to settle on the recommended governance structure before or after ratifying the will of the voters, they say.

“The only change that we’re asking for is that the City Council be able to pass legislation to impact the policies of the police department. If the mayor and the City Council and the Local Control Advisory Board want to identify a different structure, that’s fine. They can do that. But that doesn’t need to prevent implementation and enactment of local control,” said Molly Amster, the Baltimore director of Jews United for Justice.


Amster said the question of how governance of the police department should operate is a “separate issue” from the approval by 83% of residents who voted on the ballot question in November.

“I know the mayor and Del. Young believe that they’re moving this forward in good faith and I appreciate the partnership over the years, but the goal post keeps getting moved,” Amster added. “And we’re frustrated, and concerned, and want the will of the people to be carried out.”

Democratic state Sen. Jill P. Carter of Baltimore introduced legislation Monday that would amend the city charter to make local control effective June 1. The bill states that the mayor and City Council have the “full power and authority” to exercise “police power” within the limits of the city. It would repeal a previous provision barring the city from impeding or interfering with the Baltimore police commissioner. Carter’s bill was also filed in the House by the Baltimore City Delegation, and will have a hearing March 7 in the House Judiciary Committee.

Young said he expects to hash out differences between his bill and Carter’s and that city legislators can coalesce behind a single piece of legislation in the coming months. The delegate said he is open to “reasonable changes” in his proposal.

Carter was not available for comment.

Authors of The Baltimore Sun op-ed noted that advocates have demanded the “common sense authority” since before the killing of Freddie Gray. He was fatally injured in city police custody in 2015.


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“That, in our perception, is something that can be done now, and needs to be done now,” Kelly said.

Ralikh Hayes, the deputy director of Organizing Black, too, said groups had to fight to get the referendum bill passed, pour resources into informing voters, pass the ballot measure and then “get told we have to do more work and wait some more.”

“If this is a democracy, then there should be nothing more important than the will of the voters,” Hayes said. “Baltimore has a history of not having control of its own resources. I see this as a racist continuation of this same process — saying the city isn’t ready to govern itself, isn’t ready to lead itself.”

Moore said she sympathized with the frustrations of local advocates about the speed of the process. The recent release of a video depicting members of a Memphis, Tennessee, police unit beating Tyre Nichols to death has reopened wounds for city residents about Gray and about the rogue former Gun Trace Task Force, she said.

“It takes us back to what did happen. It’s in our cells. It’s triggering,” she said.

Moore noted that during a brief stint as acting Baltimore solicitor she settled multiple cases related to the task force and attended hearings in federal court on the city’s ongoing consent decree. It requires the improvement of the police department after the Justice Department found widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory policing, particularly in poor, Black neighborhoods.


“I didn’t want Baltimore to go through trial after trial. That’s anger on top of anger over cases that are not very defensible. That’s our truth. We want reform,” she said. “Representing this city as a lawyer and going to consent decree hearings, you don’t do that without hearing the bad stuff. There’s good stuff happening and we don’t want to go back.”