Bill to end state control of Baltimore police won't pass this year after opposition from city senators

The Maryland Senate will not vote to give Baltimore full control over its police department this year after several city senators expressed reservations about the bill, describing it as flawed.

Baltimore senators Bill Ferguson, Cory V. McCray and Antonio Hayes are instead endorsing a work group to study the effects of a proposal to make the Baltimore Police Department a city agency — instead of a state agency.


In recent a letter to City Solicitor Andre Davis, McCray detailed his concerns, saying he remains, “uncomfortable with the regularity that the City is paying out large settlements as an after-the-fact remedy to a pattern of police misconduct.”

McCray said he worries that the change would cost city taxpayers even more money. Davis has said the effects would be minimal.


“I approach any change to the City’s funding and/or liability scheme with great caution,” McCray wrote.

There were no such reservations in the House of Delegates, where Baltimore Del. Talmadge Branch’s bill breezed through, passing by a vote of 137-0. But the three senators said the bill would need to be amended heavily because, they argued, it failed to even fully return control of the police to the city as its supporters profess it would.

In response, the Campaign for Justice, Safety & Jobs — a coalition that includes Jews United for Justice and the ACLU — released a statement thanking those who supported the bill, including Mayor Catherine Pugh, Davis, the full Baltimore City Council and new Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.

“While it is deeply disappointing that instability in Baltimore’s current leadership killed the momentum to restore local control of Baltimore’s police department to Baltimore residents, the truth is that accountability would have been improved by the bill,” the statement said. “Thankfully, the movement to realize local control is stronger than ever.

“We have now secured commitments from the Senators who withheld support for the bill to work with us to address their concerns. Baltimore residents can finally have hope that control of their police department will return to them during the 2020 General Assembly.”

The move came after acting Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young told Baltimore's delegates Thursday that he thought they should study the issue further before making a decision. Young said he was mainly concerned about the potential "double whammy" of financial costs to the city from lawsuits against the police department.

Young said the mayor already has significant control over the department by appointing the commissioner. And he said in the short term, it's more important to him to require certain police supervisors to live in city limits.

Pugh, facing a criminal investigation into the book deals that paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars, announced this week that she will take an indefinite leave of absence because of her health.


Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.