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Police Accountability Board plan questioned at Baltimore County Council hearing

 Baltimore County Council. Credit: John Lee
Baltimore County Council. Credit: John Lee

Baltimore County’s plan to create a police accountability board came under fire Tuesday night from people who fear it will be too weak to make a difference.

The county council heard from residents who questioned the makeup of the board and the powers it will have.

The police accountability board would receive public complaints about police misconduct, hold regular meetings with law enforcement and recommend policy changes.

That’s not good enough, according to Lorena Diaz with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, because under the legislation, the board would not have the power to independently investigate police misconduct.

Diaz said, “Essentially the police will continue to investigate themselves. And we know that this does not work and this is not what we’re here to create.”

Most of the two dozen or so people who spoke at the hearing strongly supported a police accountability board, or PAB. However, they objected to the details of the legislation proposed by County Executive Johnny Olszewski on what it should look like.

Under the legislation, the county attorney would be the PAB’s legal adviser. Parkville resident Ann Beezley said that would be a blatant conflict of interest since both the police and the county attorney are government employees.

“It would be a real shame to spend the time and the money to create a PAB that lacks credibility,” Beezley said. “We need to create a PAB that is not rigged.”

The legislation does allow the PAB to choose an outside counsel if the county attorney has a conflict.

Active police officers can’t serve on the board, but retired ones can. Multiple members of the group Baltimore County Coalition for Police Accountability objected to that. But Dave Folderaur, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police, called the opposition discriminatory, saying retired officers would bring expertise.

“We’re not looking for anybody to be on this board that leans one way or the other,” Folderaur said. “They should be independent, want the truth and want to make Baltimore County stronger.”

Folderaur noted that Baltimore County has no choice. It has to set up a police accountability board. The General Assembly has ordered localities to do it by July 1.

“This was not about the Baltimore County Police Department and now we’re saddled with this,” Folderaur said.

County Councilman David Marks questioned why Olszewski would pick the accountability board’s nine members. He would like the county council to have some picks too.

Deputy County Administrative Officer Drew Vetter said the county executive would have a county-wide view to make sure the board is diverse.

Vetter said, “In contrast to that, when you have appointments made within each council district, you don’t necessarily have a view into what types of candidates are being considered in each district and may not end up having a board that reflects the diversity of the county as a whole.”

The legislation states the accountability board should reflect the race, gender and cultural diversity of Baltimore County.

Olszewski is a Democrat. Marks is a Republican, and he said he wants the PAB to have political diversity as well.

“I hear so much about diversity,” Marks said. “I don’t hear much about the political diversity, differences of viewpoints.”

Lisa Barkan, who lives in Towson, said people without a lot of money need to be represented on the board too. For that to happen, she said they should be paid. They will not under the current legislation.

“The stipend I believe is really necessary for those folks who do not have the ability to be a member of such a board unless they can have money that would allow them to travel to meetings and for child care,” Barkan said.

The county council is expected to vote on the police accountability board May 2.

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