The push for local control of Baltimore police advances with new charter amendment proposal
Baltimore voters could be weighing in on the next step for local police control next year.
During Monday night’s council meeting, City Councilmember Mark Conway introduced two pieces of legislation, including a charter amendment, that would inch the city closer to clinching full local control of the police department. The charter amendment outlines the responsibilities and role of the police department, along with the department’s structure. The other piece of legislation is an amendment to the city code that would allow the council to more clearly define smaller aspects of day to day operations – these are items that would not need to be approved by city voters.
“Part of the reason why they're separate is there are going to be components to a city agency for which you want to protect behind the charter,” said Conway in an interview before the legislation’s formal introduction. “Basic powers for the police commissioner and structure of the police department – that should not change at the whim of the council but needs to be left to the vote of the people."
Baltimore City voters in 2022 overwhelmingly approved having full local control of the police department by making it a city agency; it had been under state control since before the Civil War. But there have been outstanding factors that have prevented that full transition from becoming final.
City lawmakers and local control advocates alike have expressed concern about language in the state constitution that would need to be altered by the General Assembly so that the city could have full autonomy over the department. The line in question states, “no ordinance of the City or act of any municipal officer, other than an act of the Mayor pursuant to Article IV of this Charter, shall conflict, impede, obstruct, hinder or interfere with the powers of the Police Commissioner.”
Ultimately, proposals to fix that in the last general session were unsuccessful.
The Local Control Advisory Board (LCAB), a commission appointed by Mayor Brandon Scott to make recommendations on the local control process, will have a report that includes proposed charter amendment language ready in about a month, said Conway. The LCAB and the public will weigh-in during public hearings and the council will likely add amendments, explained Conway. He hopes that once the city has clarified its language in its charter, the General Assembly will consider removing or amending the prohibitive language in the constitution.
“Here's an attempt.. to put forward a complete package so that the state can clean up its code and make clear that it is the jurisdiction of Baltimore city and its city council, us, to make laws and make recommendations for changes for the police department going forward,” he said.
Conway said he wanted to get the amendment proposed early enough so that two public town halls and the required three city council meetings could be wrapped up around the time the legislative season begins in Annapolis.
“By having this already before the city council, that kind of puts us on pace,” said Ray Kelly, who sits on the LCAB and has advocated for local control for over a decade. Kelly said much of the language introduced by Conway is similar to the recommendations the board has been drafting and he agreed with the council member's decision to get the process moving.
“We want our public local law to be as clean as possible, so there will be minimal reason to ever take Baltimore police to Annapolis,” said Kelly.
Bryan Doherty, a spokesperson for Mayor Brandon Scott, said the mayor is partnering with the council to “advance these efforts” and guarantee the public’s engagement.
“This has been a focus of the Mayor’s since his earliest days on the City Council, and he’s eager to see it through,” Doherty wrote to WYPR.
The public meetings are scheduled for November 29th and December 6th.