By Dayvon Love
The author is director of public policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle in Baltimore.
Community-based law enforcement oversight is a demand that emanates from the Black Freedom Movement of the 1960s. It is a demand that recognizes that the most effective way to deter the dehumanization of black people is to have the ability to impose consequences on those who harm our community.
In this context, these consequences include the ability to oversee operations and sanction police officers who commit misconduct. Representatives of law enforcement in the political landscape – usually the Fraternal Order of Police – have been the most vocal in their advocacy against community surveillance of their activities.
We see it today in law enforcement’s resistance to complying with Anton’s Law, which allows Public Information Act requests for police investigation records. Previously, these documents were prohibited from public disclosure. Police departments charge huge fees for those requesting these files, and in some cases the departments simply won’t turn over the records.
Unfortunately, the Brandon Scott administration and Baltimore City Senate Delegation Chairman Cory McCray seem resistant to the idea of community oversight of law enforcement. To be clear, while the definition of community oversight that I have used throughout my work on police accountability is rooted in the previously mentioned black social movements, for the purposes of this discourse we can use the framework which was articulated by the Community Oversight Working Group which is part of the Consent Decree.
The second recommendation of the report reads as follows:
Establish a Civilian Independent Office of Police Accountability (COPA) with professional staff to investigate complaints of police misconduct; check police training, policies and procedures; and conduct community outreach activities on policing issues.
The COPA recommended in the task force report is an independent entity that lives institutionally outside of the police department. Additionally, the final recommendation of the Community Supervision Task Force report reads as follows:
As an interim measure to improve civilian oversight until COPA takes effect, provide the existing Civilian Review Board (CRB) with full access to the information and resources necessary to do its job and fulfill its statutory mandates .
In addition, the Police Accountability Act 2021 mandates the establishment of Police Accountability Boards which, in its most ideal position, will be a community controlled and managed entity that has the capacity to receive complaints of the public and to appoint members of an administrative office. committee, which will review all allegations of misconduct.
The bill introduced by Senator Jill P. Carter and Del. Stephanie Smith (SB441/HB991) is exactly in line with the recommendations of the consent decree and the requirements of the Police Accountability Act of 2021. He gives the existing Civil Review Commission, mentioned in the Task Force report on community oversight, the responsibilities of police accountability boards, while retaining the investigative and subpoena power that the Civilian Review Board already has.
This bill should have been easy to pass, given its alignment with the consent decree.
Unfortunately, the initial position of the Scott administration was to oppose SB441/HB991 and instead establish the Police Accountability Board and abolish the Civilian Review Board. It would have meant Baltimore residents would lose the investigative and subpoena powers they fought for in 1999 when the CRB was created and would go against the recommendations of the consent decree.
The city’s position was based on a series of specious legal arguments. Subsequently, the Attorney General’s office drafted an advisory opinion that fully supported the legitimacy of the legislation and, frankly, was an embarrassing rebuttal to the administration’s initial opposition to HB991/SB441.
The Scott administration has since moved away from its original position and has publicly pledged to ensure that the powers of the Civilian Review Board are retained. The administration’s position, as noted in Mayor Scott’s recent op-ed, is to give investigative powers only to the Administrative Charge Committee, not the community-controlled, community-run Police Accountability Board. . It does not strengthen community monitoring. The resistance to giving these powers to the PAB is another manifestation of society’s resistance to giving working-class black people power over the institutions that govern our lives.
Ultimately, the House passed a modified version of HB991 which the Scott administration accepted. Despite the fact that it represents a compromise that supporters are not happy with, the administration, in conjunction with Senate delegation chairman McCray, was poised to weaken the bill even further — so much so that the sponsors of the bill would no longer support it.
Importantly, current members of the city’s Senate delegation have verbally committed to Senator Carter to defer to her on matters of police accountability, given her years of advocacy on the issue. and the fact that she served for two years as Director of the Civilian Review Board. Senator McCray’s posture breaks with this verbal commitment.
This is deeply disappointing and another example of how the leadership of the Democratic Party is undermining the ability of black people to exercise power over the institutions that govern our lives.