Prince George’s residents outline demands for police accountability bill

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Prince George’s residents outline demands for police accountability bill
Prince George’s residents outline demands for police accountability bill

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As the deadline to pass a police accountability bill in Prince George’s County nears, lawmakers and community members continue to spar over how it will be implemented and what it will look like. Much of the concern appears to be focused on who will serve on a soon-to-be-created police accountability board and what powers board members will have.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has developed a list of 11 nominees for the County Council to consider for confirmation to the board, but community members have asked for more public involvement in the process.

“The importance of establishing this board is to restore trust within the community,” Kenneth Clark, a pastor and civil rights advocate, said at a council meeting Tuesday. “If you want the community to get involved, to police their own community, you have to include the community in the process.”

Clark was one of many members of the community who spoke as the council met earlier Tuesday to hear public testimony and discuss legislation that would establish a Police Accountability Board (PAB) and an Administrative Charging Committee (ACC) that would review alleged police misconduct.

Police accountability legislation, passed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police, aims to create ways for civilians to be involved in the police disciplinary process. Across the state, counties are implementing the boards required under the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, passed by the General Assembly and expected to be implemented on July 1.

The current mechanism for citizen oversight in the county is the Citizen Complaint Oversight Panel (CCOP), which is in the process of being repealed and replaced. According to the law, the CCOP has independent investigative powers in reviewing complaints of police misconduct, which officers are advocating to fold into the PAB, and with adequate funding.

According to a draft bill, the PAB, made up of civilians, would meet quarterly with law enforcement officials and agencies within the county “to improve matters of policing.” They would also receive police misconduct complaints, review disciplinary outcomes and make recommendations for policy changes to “improve police accountability.”

The ACC will be responsible for determining whether an officer should be administratively charged after reviewing the law enforcement agency’s investigative findings of misconduct complaints involving an officer and a civilian, and, if so, recommend discipline, according to the draft bill. The PAB would also have the ability to appoint a civilian to a three-member trial board, a body that determines how an officer is disciplined.

Maryland passed sweeping laws to change police discipline. Now it’s stumbling on implementation, actors say.

Gina Ford, communications director for Alsobrooks (D), said in a statement Tuesday that the county received 96 applications for the PAB over a three-week period in January. A panel consisting of the Office of the County Executive, County Council staff and local police chiefs interviewed 35 individuals who were then scored before recommendations were made for seven members to be selected.

“Realizing the talent pool and the need for increased diversity, the number was expanded to 11,” Ford said.

A background check was conducted on each of the 11 nominees, and all passed, Ford said. The members now await a confirmation process by the county council where the names would be made public.

However, at Tuesday’s meeting and at a separate car rally last month outside the offices of the council and county executive, community members expressed frustration. They say residents were not included in the membership selection process, such as being able to provide input or knowing what criteria were used to pick those on the board. They also argue that because the selection process began before the legislation that would establish the board was introduced, criteria for applicants were subject to change. The initial draft of legislation was proposed by the County Executive in mid-March, John Erzen II, deputy chief of staff for Alsobrooks, said in an interview.

“The meat and potatoes of who these people are, that the County Exec selected, is still a mystery,” said Tamara McKinney, a community activist who serves as a co-leader for Concerned Citizens for Bail Reform, in an interview.

Erzen said the county began the recruiting process early to meet the July 1 deadline. He said the applications stated that the legislative process was ongoing and not yet complete.

“This is what has been done for every board that has been put together,” Erzen said of the process.

Councilman Edward Burroughs III (D) expressed concerns over the current selection process.

“I think it’s important to decentralize power from any one person,” Burroughs said in an interview. “The state law says the governing body will determine the composition [of the board]. The governing body is the county council and the executive. [The county executive] has to play a role, but does not have to appoint all the members. ”

At the council meeting, members of the Prince George’s County Coalition for Police Accountability, made up of members of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability and local organizations, advocated for amendments to the draft bill related to membership and investigative powers for the PAB.

The amendments recommended by the coalitions call for the PAB to “reflect the racial, gender, gender-identity, sexual orientation, and cultural diversity of the County,” according to a document from the Prince George’s County Coalition for Police Accountability. say the board should have the power to “hold explicit independent investigative powers and authority to recommend discipline to the ACC at their discretion,” and the power to “issue subpoenas, interview witnesses, and employ any other investigative powers necessary to complete their obligation to review outcomes of disciplinary matters as considered by the ACC. “

Yanet Amanuel, public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, told the council that the state law “creates a basic framework but does not set a ceiling for what you can all do.”

The coalitions also advocated for adequate funding for the board. On Wednesday, the council passed a $ 5 billion budget, including funds for the PAB and ACC.

Prince George’s County Council passes the $ 5 billion budget

Members of the Fraternal Order of Police also spoke at the council meeting, saying a suggested amendment preventing former police officers serving on the board should be tossed.

Angelo Consoli, FOP Lodge 89 president, said in an interview that police agree with a disciplinary board but favor the state law, which does not prohibit former police from being on the board.

“You can’t sit there and say,‘ We can’t have a cop on there because he has a bias, ’but then you’re saying you’re gonna put every other group on there that actually has a bias against the police, ”Consoli said.

The coalitions however want amendments so that no former police officers or anyone who was previously employed by law enforcement would be allowed to serve.

“The PAB should be free to consult … with expertise if needed,” Beverly John, coordinator for the Prince George’s County Coalition for Police Accountability, said at the council meeting. “But they shouldn’t be on this board, because I believe it would just taint the process.”

The council’s committee of the whole will meet on Monday to take action on a proposed list of amendments.

The proposed list of amendments includes much of the community demands, such as funding for an independent legal counsel and giving the board the power to issue subpoenas and independent investigative powers.

The county proposal document also proposes amending the board selection process, having each council member submit a list of three names to the county executive, having the county executive appoint one from each list and “a public engagement process.”

Vice-Chair Sydney J. Harrison said officials care about implementing the bill the “right” way and briefly shared his own experience with police brutality about 30 years ago. The councilman said he was using a pay phone at a Wendy’s when “a police officer slammed me on the ground, who put a gun to the back of my head.”

“We’re trying to eradicate bad behavior,” Harrison said at the council meeting Tuesday.

For mothers and families directly affected by police violence, the demand for police accountability has been ongoing for decades. They hope this bill will send a message.

Dorothy Copp Elliott, a community lawyer whose 24-year-old son, Archie “Artie” Elliott III, was shot 14 times and killed by Prince George’s County police in 1993, spoke at the council meeting. The mother said “not any part” of her life has gone untouched since the death of her son.

“It is my fervent hope that police who want to kill and commit criminal acts be held accountable, indicted and sentenced under the law,” Elliott said. “There must be effective and lawful policing without depriving a citizen of his or her life. We deserve better, and we demand better. ”

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