ANNAPOLIS — Violent protests, high tensions and rampant distrust are one police-involved incident away, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in warning to state lawmakers.
The mayor appeared before the Baltimore City delegation on Friday to present her legislative wish list for the year, which ranged from education funding to infrastructure to improving the relationship between the public and police.
“All it would take is one incident and we could have a Ferguson-like incident in any part of Maryland,” said Rawlings-Blake, referring to the Missouri town where violence erupted between protestors and police over a white officer’s shooting death of a black teen. “I think it’s important for us to do the work now to try to create a more level playing field and a better opportunity to increase community relations.”
Rawlings-Blake said improvements are already being made. Courtesy complaints and lawsuits against the police department are down, while trial board convictions for officers have increased. The mayor said a body camera program for officers is set to be announced soon.
Del. Curtis Anderson, D-Baltimore, introduced legislation this week that broadens the scope of disciplinary action for officers and elevates “misconduct in office” to a felony.
Information provided by the mayor’s office indicated a third proposal from the mayor would allow the city’s Civilian Review Board to hear more complaints against Baltimore police officers.
The mayor’s attention toward police misconduct comes at a time when police use of force is being examined around the country. Incidents like the one in Missouri, or in New York where a man died after being put in a head lock by officers, have triggered outcries of power abuse and growing distrust.
“The need for better relationships, the need for a more even playing field is not just a sentiment shared in Baltimore, it’s a national sentiment,” Rawlings-Blake said. “We all know the vast majority of police officers show up every day, they put their lives on line, they’re doing the right thing.”
But Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Baltimore City Lodge 3, has his doubts.
Protecting law-abiding police is where much of the misinformation about law enforcement rights begins, said Ryan, who attended the mayor’s presentation.
The Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights “isn’t in place to protect bad cops, it’s there to protect good cops.”
“I don’t know this composed legislation is the way to go,” he said.
Ryan said the solution starts with raising the standards of officer recruitment, training and education, but acknowledged it would also take cooperation with lawmakers.
“It’s an internal issue, I think we can solve the problem if we work together,” he said.