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Police Reform Shelved By Baltimore County Council

Baltimore County Police Department

The Baltimore County Council Monday night put the brakes on passing any sort of police reform legislation.

By a 4-3 vote, the council voted to table the controversial bill, proposed by Democratic Councilman Julian Jones. This issue touched off a debate between members over how the legislation was being written and whether the council was ducking its duty to vote it up or down.

WYPR’s John Lee listened in on the meeting and talked about it with Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner.

Sterner: Remind us what the legislation would have done.

Lee: A number of things, including banning police officers from using chokeholds. It also would have made it harder for Baltimore County to hire a police officer who had been dismissed in another jurisdiction. It would have required a police officer to intervene when another officer is using excessive force, and officers would have received de-escalation training at least annually. But since the legislation was tabled, that is all on hold for now.

Sterner: Why did the majority of the council decide to table it?

Lee: Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk laid out the case for that. He said Police Chief Melissa Hyatt is currently reforming the police department.

Quirk: “They’ve created a director of accountability and compliance, similar to an inspector general, created a director of diversity and inclusion, created a professional standards bureau, they’re bringing in national recognized training programs on fair and impartial policing that will be mandatory for all employees.”

Lee: Quirk also said the council should hold off because the state legislature is currently reviewing police reforms. But Councilman Jones, the legislation’s sponsor was having none of that.

Jones: “That does not advocate or take away from our responsibility to have laws here in Baltimore County.

Lee: Jones called the tabling of the legislation a disgrace, saying he had never seen a proposal with so much community support. Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins said she would not want to legislate split-second decisions police officers need to make. She also said the legislation needed more work.

Sterner: What did Councilwoman Bevins mean by that?

Lee: The council’s debate last night gave us a rare glimpse at how the sausage sometimes gets made behind closed doors in Baltimore County and it wasn’t pretty. Council members talked about a flurry of changes they were kicking back and forth in private yesterday afternoon to try to achieve a compromise to get the bill passed last night. Republican Councilman David Marks, who voted to table the legislation, said he hears complaints from constituents about the council’s lack of transparency with 11th hour amendments to legislation.

Marks: “We ran out the clock on this one. And I told folks we should wait on this. Perhaps the bill can be reintroduced and we can talk about it then. But if you’re someone who supported that original bill, it wasn’t going to look a lot like it did when it was introduced.”

Lee: And fireworks really erupted between Chairwoman Bevins and Councilman Izzy Patoka. Patoka voted against tabling, saying council members were elected to make tough votes, not to table. Chairwoman Bevins fired back at Patoka.

Bevins: “I don’t need you to tell me what I’m doing or not doing in my job. That is very rude of you. And I’m wondering if I wasn’t a female if you would even have the guts to say that to me.”

Lee: Patoka did point out that it was Councilman Tom Quirk, not Bevins, who made the motion to table the legislation.

Sterner: Has County Executive Johnny Olszewski weighed in?

Lee: He released a statement after the vote saying the council’s decision to table the legislation reinforces the urgency of implementing reforms he and Chief Hyatt recently announced. But Councilman Jones says those types of initiatives can be swept away by the next county executive and police chief. He says police reform needs to be part of Baltimore County law.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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