Baltimore may regain local control over the city’s police department after 160 years of state control. A new bill could shift power over the agency after city leaders agreed on the transition process.
The Baltimore Sun reported the legislation proposes an advisory board comprising 17-members, including the mayor, city solicitor, police commissioner, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, the city’s chief equity officer and the city council president. The mayor would also appoint six community nominees to be confirmed by the city council.
Three of the mayor’s community appointees would be people with backgrounds in criminal justice, community policing or police reform. Other board members include a representative from the local fraternal order of police, the city’s union for officers and the Vanguard Justice Society, an organization for Black officers.
The state Senate, president and the speaker of the House of Delegates will also have seats on the transition board. A representative from Baltimore’s Civilian Review Board will hold the last seat.
Returning local control to the city will end the need to lobby state officials to enact policies at the city level addressing police conduct. Another bill moving through the legislature looks at police accountability boards. But advocates say an amendment by Sen. Charles Sydnor is needed to give the accountability boards real investigatory power.
The Baltimore Police Department is the only municipal department in Maryland that is also a state agency. While the state government took over the police department in 1860, the city kept budgetary control. In 1976, the state returned the ability to appoint the police commissioner back to the city.
Restoring local control to Baltimore is one of five reforms advocated for by the Maryland Coalition for Justice & Police Accountability, a diverse statewide coalition of more than 90 organizations.
Other reforms include repealing the law enforcement officer bill of rights in Maryland. Transparency in police misconduct investigations, limiting the use of force and removing police from schools.
Organizer Rob Ferrell says there is no reason for a majority Black city not to control its police department. “It’s frankly racist for a majority Black city to not have control over its police department,” said Ferrell in a video statement. “Our elected officials in Baltimore city and our city council don’t have the ability to legislate our police force which is under a consent decree with our federal government.”