Prince George’s County executive Angela Alsobrooks has drawn up a list of 11 candidates for county council to consider for confirmation to council, but community members have called for greater public involvement in the process.
“The importance of establishing this council is to restore trust within the community,” Kenneth Clark, a pastor and civil rights advocate, said at a council meeting on Tuesday. “If you want the community to be involved, to control their own community, you have to include the community in the process.”
Clark was one of many community members who spoke at the council meeting earlier on Tuesday to hear public testimony and discuss legislation that would establish a Police Accountability Board (PAB) and Committee Administrative Charge (ACC) that would review allegations of police misconduct.
The police accountability legislation, passed in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, was intended to create ways for civilians to be involved in the police disciplinary process. Across the state, counties are implementing guidance required under the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, passed by the General Assembly and set to be implemented July 1.
The current citizen oversight mechanism in the county is the Citizen Complaints Oversight Committee (CCOP), which is in the process of being repealed. and replaced. Under the law, the CCOP has independent investigative powers to look into complaints of police misconduct, which activists advocate should be incorporated into the PAB, and with adequate funding.
According to one bill, the PAB, made up of civilians, would meet quarterly with law enforcement officials and county agencies “to improve policing matters.” They would also receive complaints of police misconduct, review disciplinary results 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 findings of the law enforcement agency’s investigation of the conduct complaints. involving an officer and a civilian, and, if necessary, recommend discipline, according to the draft law. The CAP would also have the ability to appoint a civilian to a three-member adjudicative committee, a body that determines how an officer is disciplined.
Maryland passed sweeping laws to change police discipline. Now it is stumbling over implementation, campaigners say.
Gina Ford, director of communications for Alsobrooks (D), said in a statement Tuesday that the county received 96 applications for the BAP over a three-week period in January. A panel consisting of the county executive’s office, county council staff and local police chiefs interviewed 35 people who were then scored before recommendations were made for seven members to be selected.
“Given the talent pool and the need for increased diversity, the number has been expanded to 11,” Ford said.
A background check was performed on each of the 11 applicants, and all passed, Ford said. Members are now awaiting 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 council and county executive offices, community members expressed frustration. They say residents were not included in the member selection process, such as being able to provide feedback or know what criteria were used to choose council members. They also argue that because the selection process began before the introduction of legislation that would establish the council, the criteria for candidates were subject to change. The original bill was proposed by the county executive in mid-March, Alsobrooks deputy chief of staff John Erzen II said in an interview.
“Whose meat and potatoes are these people, whom the county executive selected, is still a mystery,” said Tamara McKinney, a community activist who is co-lead of Concerned Citizens for Bail Reform, in an interview.
Erzen said the county started the recruiting process early to meet the July 1 deadline. He said the nominations indicated that the legislative process was ongoing and not yet complete.
“That’s what’s been done for every council that’s been put together,” Erzen said of the process.
Councilman Edward Burroughs III (D) expressed concern about the current selection process.
“I think it’s important to decentralize power to one person,” Burroughs said in an interview. “State law provides that the governing body will determine the composition [of the board]. The governing body is the county council and the executive. [The county executive] must play a role, but must not name 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 regarding PAB membership and investigative powers.
The coalitions’ recommended amendments call on 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. The amendments also say the board should have the power to “have explicit independent investigative powers and the authority to recommend disciplinary action to the ACC at its discretion”, and the power to “issue subpoenas, question witnesses and to employ any other investigative powers necessary to fulfill its obligation to review the results of disciplinary cases as considered by the ACC.”
Yanet Amanuel, director of public policy for 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 all of you can do.”
The coalitions also advocated for adequate funding of the council. On Wednesday, the council passed a $5 billion budget, including funds for the PAB and ACC.
Prince George’s County Council passes $5 billion budget
Members of the Fraternal Order of Police also spoke at the council meeting, saying a suggested amendment barring former police officers from serving on the council should be rejected.
Angelo Consoli, president of FOP Lodge 89, said in an interview that police agree with a disciplinary board but favor state law, which does not bar former police officers from serving on the board.
“You can’t sit there and say, ‘We can’t have a cop over there because he’s biased’, but then you say you’re going to put all the other bands over there that have in is biased against the police,” Consoli said.
The coalitions, however, want amendments so that no former police officer or person who was previously employed by law enforcement is allowed to serve.
“The PAB should be free to consult … with expertise if needed,” Beverly John, coordinator of the Prince George’s County Coalition for Police Accountability, said at the board meeting. “But they shouldn’t be part of that council, because I think that would only taint the process.”
The council’s committee of the whole will meet on Monday to decide on a proposed list of amendments.
The proposed list of amendments includes much of the community’s demands, such as funding independent legal counsel and granting the board the power to issue subpoenas and investigative powers independent.
The county’s proposal document also suggests changing the council selection process, requiring each council member to submit a list of three names to the county executive, asking the county executive to appoint one on each list and “a public engagement process”.
Vice President Sydney J. Harrison said officials are concerned about implementing the bill in the “right” way and briefly shared his own experience of police brutality some 30 years ago. The councilman said he was using a payphone in a Wendy’s when ‘a policeman knocked me to the ground, who put a gun in the back of my head’.
“We’re trying to root out bad behavior,” Harrison said at Tuesday’s board meeting.
For mothers and families directly impacted by police violence, a demand for police accountability has been ongoing for decades. They hope that this bill will send a message.
Dorothy Copp Elliott, a community activist whose 24-year-old son Archie ‘Artie’ Elliott III was shot and killed by Prince George’s County police in 1993, spoke at the council meeting . The mother said “no part” of her life has been spared since her son’s death.
“I fervently hope that police officers who kill and commit crimes for no reason are held accountable, charged and convicted according to law,” Elliott said. “There must be effective and lawful policing without depriving a citizen of his life. We deserve better and we demand better.