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Police reform advocates press for public hearing on Maryland’s guidelines for local accountability boards

Yanet Amanuel, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland, speaks during a press conference in Annapolis Wednesday, August 10, 2022. (The Daily Record photo/Madeleine O’Neill)

A coalition of police reform advocates rallied in Annapolis Wednesday to call attention to proposed emergency regulations they say would weaken a landmark 2021 law that created new mechanisms for police accountability.

The Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission developed the regulations for police accountability boards and administrative charging committees, two new bodies that would incorporate civilian oversight of police departments.

But the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, an umbrella group of more than 100 organizations from across Maryland, argues that the regulations would take away local control of who can participate on the boards.

The coalition is asking the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review to revise the proposed regulations and hold an emergency public hearing to consider the groups’ concerns.

“The community should not be robbed of the opportunity to provide public comments on such critical regulations,” said Yanet Amanuel, the public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland. “The AELR should carefully consider these concerns and provide the public with an open and transparent process.”

Calls to the chairs of the AELR committee, Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel County, and Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City, were not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

The coalition’s concerns about the MPTSC regulations center on proposed eligibility criteria for members of the police accountability boards and administrative charging committees. Some of the proposed criteria include the requirement that a member be a legal resident or citizen of the United States and that they have not been convicted of a crime.

Members of the Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability have argued against similar proposals at the local level. The proposed MPTSC regulations would reverse that work, group members said Wednesday, and strip local communities of the ability to choose who participates on the boards.

“It is appalling to hear that an unelected commission is now trying to undermine community efforts,” said Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, the Baltimore regional director for CASA, a Latino and immigration advocacy group.

The MPTSC proposals would also require members of police accountability boards and administrative charging committees to sign confidentiality agreements and would limit the ability of administrative charging committees to bring charges where discipline had already been imposed against a police officer.

Under the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, local jurisdictions must create police accountability boards to receive civilian complaints against the police, to review decisions by administrative charging committees, and to recommend policy changes that would improve police accountability.

Administrative charging committees are different: they will receive law enforcement agencies’ investigations into complaints against officers, decide whether an officer should be administratively charged and recommend discipline. The officer will then be offered the discipline and can either accept it or take the case to a trial board.

The law allows local jurisdictions to decide the members of their police accountability boards. The boards will have authority to choose two civilian members of the local administrative charging committee.

Steven Waddy, of the Anne Arundel County NAACP, said Wednesday that the boards and charging committees should include people who have been most affected by policing.

“These exclusionary rules exacerbate racial disparities by banning a higher proportion of Black and brown people,” Waddy said. The rules “also send a discouraging message that some people are qualified to have a say in policing and others, ironically those most impacted, are not.”

The Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 went into effect in July. Many local jurisdictions have developed their police accountability boards or are in the process of launching their boards, though some have not, Amanuel said.

The AELR committee must approve the proposed MPTSC regulations before they take effect, she said.