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City Council Attempts to Gain Control of BPD Again


At last night's meeting of the Baltimore City Council, Brandon Scott, chair of the public safety committee, put forth a resolution for the state to create a board of police commissioners and transfer over full control of the city’s police department to the city.

WYPR’s Dominique Maria Bonessi reports that this is the not the first time Scott has pushed for this legislation.

NATHAN: Can you give us a little history lesson? Why does Baltimore City not control its own police department and when did the state take it over?

DOMINIQUE: The state gained control of the Baltimore police department in 1860. During this time, state lawmakers didn’t want local politicians getting in the way of the operations of the police force. This was the same time period that politicians would give officer’s their jobs and officers were supposed to turn a blind eye to anything criminal those politicians may have done. Mind you this is also a century before the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights was ever created, in which it gave officers rights above and beyond their constitutional rights.

NATHAN: Councilman Brandon Scott is one of many members trying to change the status quo, what kind of attempts has he made in the past?

DOMINIQUE: During last year’s General Assembly session, Scott worked with Baltimore City Delegation Chair, Curt Anderson of West Baltimore. While Baltimore City Council showed unanimous support for the bill, the newly elected Mayor Catherine Pugh at the time said she didn’t want any more control of the department.

In the end Anderson withdrew the bill after lawmakers in the city delegation stood divided on it. And there were two reasons for that: One, some said that city control meant that officers would only have local governmental immunity; whereas, state control meant total immunity for State constitutional torts. And two, lawmakers said that city control would be more payment for lawsuits. But I would like to point out that the city already pays out tens-of-millions of dollars in settlements each year.

NATHAN: So what is different about Scott’s attempt this time?

DOMINIQUE: This time around Councilman Scott has added another part to this legislation by also asking for the creation of a Board of Police Commissioners to oversee the department. Scotts says that this board would be voted on by city residents in elections. This piece of the bill would allow for more civilian oversight which is one of the goals of the current Justice Department Consent Decree on the BPD.

NATHAN: So last year attempts for this change failed, what is different about this year?

DOMINIQUE: Currently, Councilman Scott is shopping around for state delegates to sponsor the legislation. I received an email from the City Solicitor Andre Davis yesterday that said the mayor wouldn’t comment on any unwritten legislation, but then called piece of legislation a “thorny legal issue”. He continued to say that the issue is complex “related to fiscal concerns, exposure to damages and injunctive relief in the courts, and unforeseeable entanglements of different sorts.”

Also, the only way the measure will pass this time is that the entire Baltimore City Delegation would have to be on board with it.

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