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With Deadline Looming, Counties Working to Establish Police Accountability Boards to Monitor Misconduct Complaints

Photo by Chalabala / stock.adobe.com.

As the July 1 deadline draws near, Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions continue to wrestle with how to locally implement the police accountability boards mandated by sweeping reform legislation passed in 2021.

“We know that it’s coming,” James Massey, the manager of the Cecil County Council, said during an interview Friday.

Massey has been in conversation with the county attorney about the pending legislation and things that need to be discussed with the police union.

“We know that we won’t have it implemented by July 1, but it will be close,” he said.

Implementing new far-reaching policies to govern police misconduct was required by the Police Accountability Act of 2021 and has challenged local officials, who are negotiating with advocates and law enforcement on how to create more transparent disciplinary processes for officers.

The bill passed last year requires the governing bodies of each jurisdiction to establish police accountability boards and administrative charging committees that will conduct investigations and decide the outcomes of police misconduct complaints brought by members of the public.

Under the law, civilians can submit their complaints to the law enforcement agency or to their county police accountability board, which will have three days to send the complaint to the department for investigation.

The policing agency will then send its findings to the ​​county’s administrative charging committee, which will decide if disciplinary charges should be filed against the officer.

Active-duty police officers are not eligible to serve on these boards.

Though House Bill 670 takes effect on July 1, agencies with collective bargaining contracts that go past that date can maintain their current disciplinary policies until those contracts run out.

After months of debate, some jurisdictions have passed policies with time to spare ahead of the law’s enactment date. But others are still debating final policies. To this point, Somerset County has not addressed how to implement a police accountability board at all.

Dorchester County Councilmember Jay L. Newcomb (D) said he and his colleagues have been in conversation with their legal counsel and the county sheriff to discuss how to move forward with the measure.

“It will probably be on the next agenda,” Newcomb said. “We’re in the process but nothing’s been finalized yet.”

Jason M. Bennett, the Allegany County administrator, said that his jurisdiction has yet to take up the legislation, but is hoping to present something before the Board of County Commissioners in May.

“We have not taken action yet, but are working behind the scenes to get our ducks in a row,” Bennett said in a phone interview.

Cynthia Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R), said legislation is being drafted. The county waited to see if the General Assembly would extend the enactment date during this year’s legislative session.

While lawmakers approved other tweaks to the law, the deadline to create local boards was not postponed.

“It will be emergency legislation to meet the July 1 deadline,” said Mumby.

‘The utmost care and attention’

Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties finalized their policies last week.

Anne Arundel County’s board will have nine voting members.

Montgomery County’s board will have nine members, all of whom will be nominated by the county executive and approved by the county council.

“Working through this bill has been both challenging and rewarding,” said Montgomery County Councilmember Sidney A. Katz (D). “Complaints alleging police misconduct by a police officer … filed by a member of the public must be handled with the utmost care and attention. Thank you to my colleagues who worked diligently in committee and at full Council, as well as to the many interested residents who took the time to share their thoughts with us.”

Howard County Executive Calvin B. Ball (D) enacted his jurisdiction’s accountability board legislation in mid-February, the same day that the Calvert County Board of Commissioners signed a resolution to create its nine-member board.

Howard County’s board will have seven members — two at-large and five representing each council district — appointed by Ball and confirmed by the county council.

Charles County is actively accepting applications to serve on its board, which will be comprised of two members of each county district and one at-large member. St. Mary’s County closed its application window to serve as one of nine board members earlier this month.

There was controversy in Prince George’s County earlier this year after County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) opened a one-week window for applicants to join the the board in January — before the jurisdiction had even adopted a local policy. The County Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday morning on a proposal to establish an 11-member accountability board.

Some jurisdictions, like Caroline and Baltimore counties, are only just beginning public conversations to take up the legislation. The Carroll County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing Thursday to address the implementation process.

The Talbot County Council held a public hearing on pending legislation earlier this month, but no one showed up to testify.

The Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners discussed police accountability boards during a hearing in late March.

The policy has stagnated in some counties.

Wicomico and Frederick counties have had policies introduced, but neither has moved to adopt them.

Garrett County commissioners were briefed on the accountability board legislation in February and will likely adopt the legislation and name board members next month.

Worcester County began discussing police accountability boards last fall. Kim Moses, the public information officer for the Worcester County Government, said the resolution is still being tweaked by the county attorney and is expected to be brought before the Board of County Commissioners in late spring or early summer.

Similar inquiries made to the governing bodies of Washington and Kent counties did not receive an immediate response.

Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) and Del. Stephanie M. Smith (D-Baltimore City) co-sponsored a bill during the 2022 legislative session to give Baltimore City’s existing Civilian Review Board the authority to act as a police accountability board under the law.

The Baltimore City Civilian Review Board is an independent organization that processes misconduct complaints levied against police officers. Members also review department policies and offer recommendations to Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.

Both versions of the bill died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Baltimore City Councilman Mark Conway (D) introduced an accountability board bill to the council on Monday night. A hearing on that bill is anticipated in May.

Earlier this month, the General Assembly passed a bill that would make tweaks to the existing law, including provisions to require all of Maryland’s state and local law enforcement agencies to adopt a uniform disciplinary policy for officers accused of misconduct.

The legislation was signed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) last week and will go into effect on July 1.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the governor signed Senate Bill 763 into law on April 21, as well as to update details about the measure that passed in Anne Arundel County, and include the introduction of a police accountability board bill in Baltimore, which occurred shortly after this story was originally published.