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Baltimore County appoints its first police accountability board

Lauren Watley, Baltimore County Government
County Executive Johnny Olszewski nominated the board members to the county council.

The Baltimore County Council approved eight people to serve on its newly created nine-member police accountability board on Monday night. While the appointments were not controversial, the board’s authority, or lack of it, was hotly contested when the council created the board in May. Critics claim the board will be toothless and provide little oversight of the police department. The appointment of the ninth member was delayed because he was unable to attend his job interview at a previous county council meeting.

The police accountability board will receive public complaints about police conduct and recommend policy changes. County Executive Johnny Olszewski nominated the board members to the county council.

“I’m confident that these nominees will use their varied personal experience and unique perspectives to help shape a set of recommendations that will improve law enforcement and public safety countywide,” said Olszewski in a statement.

Critics dislike that the board has no investigatory authority. They also object to the board having to rely on the county attorney for its legal counsel, which they say is a conflict of interest, and that former police officers can be members.

One of the accountability board’s members, John Chambers, is a retired Baltimore City police officer.

Chambers told the council during a Sept. 13 hearing that “at this point I’m a citizen and I’ve experienced the good and the bad in law enforcement as a whole.”

He said that there are both good and bad police officers out there and he’s not always going to align himself with police.

“I’m not going to decide just because of my past position,” he said.

But Cindy Farquhar with the Baltimore County Coalition for Police Accountability reiterated her organization’s objection to former officers having a seat on the Police Accountability Board.

“We caution that even an appearance of bias will undermine the credibility of the board, which is so necessary for its effectiveness,” Farquhar told the council.

All localities in the state are required to set up police accountability boards under the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. But the details of how each board will operate is left up to the jurisdiction.

For instance, unlike in Baltimore County, Baltimore City’s Police Accountability Board has subpoena power. Also, people with criminal records can serve on the city’s board. In the county, convicted felons can be on the board 10 years after they have served their time.

Olszewski nominated for the board one person from each council district as well as two at-large members. They are:

District 1– Peter Fitzpatrick, a registered nurse with Children’s National Hospital who lives in Catonsville.

District 2 – Linda Shields, an attorney who lives in Pikesville.

District 3 – Bishop Ralph Dennis, a Sparks resident.

District 4 – John Chambers, formerly with the Baltimore City Police Department, who lives in Randallstown.

District 5 – Francis Ward, a longtime 9-1-1 police dispatcher in Baltimore County, who lives in Nottingham. His appointment to the board by the council was delayed.

District 6 – Clare Petersberger, who lives in Towson and has been a volunteer chaplain for the Baltimore County Fire and Police Departments.

District 7 – Dawn Dishon-Feuer, who works as an office manager and lives in Dundalk.

The two at-large members are:

Kara White, a social worker who lives in Parkville.

Nigeria Rolling-Ford, a paralegal who lives in Randallstown.

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