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Baltimore Police could fall under city’s control if voters approve this fall

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott signed a bill to add a charter amendment to the general election ballot which could put the city’s police department under local control for the first time in decades.

Baltimore’s mayor can hire or fire the police commissioner and compile a crime prevention plan, but the city is the only across the state where local officials can’t oversee the police department’s policies or practices.

The city’s police have been under state jurisdiction since the mid-1800s, which needs to change, Scott said.

The change is about restoring trust between law enforcement and the community, enforcing police accountability, and ensuring basic democracy, he said.

“The ability to set policies and provide oversight locally, will enable us to transform the BPD and better engage constitutional, retroactive law enforcement practices, all while fulfilling our consent decree requirements with integrity,” Scott said.

City Council President Nick Mosby said restoring local control could help reduce crime. If approved by voters, the city could take control as of Jan. 1, 2023.

“We also understand though, in order for us to sustainably drive down crime and effectively provide the needs of our community as relates to public safety, there must be trust between our community, our residents and the law enforcement officers they serve.”

In 2014, city council passed a bill to outfit police officers with body cameras but the mayor at the time vetoed the measure suggesting that the city didn’t have the power to make such a change. In 2015, Freddie Gray Jr. was killed while in Baltimore city police custody. By 2016, Baltimore city donned body cameras for the first time.

Mosby said the charter amendment is a step in the right direction to protect the civil rights of residents.

“The mayor can remember when we were on the council, it was a council that really pushed to be one of the first councils in the country to put body worn cameras on our police officers, unfortunately because of the local control in Annapolis and the charter in Annapolis, that could not be had, even though that was the wishes of this Baltimore City Council,” Mosby said.

In 2017, the Baltimore city police department agreed to a consent decree with the Department of Justice to stop systematically violating civil rights.

The police department promised to prevent discriminatory policing, use of excessive force, and focus on community-centric policing.

“And that was a stark reminder as to why we are standing here today,” he said.

Baltimore City’s Chief Equity Officer Dana Moore, which oversees police misconduct investigations, said that local control is popular among residents.

“Mayor Scott answered the call of the citizens of Baltimore who want and demand and deserve a voice in the policies and practices of its police department,” Moore said. “Self-determination is critical to make this happen.”

Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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