Unless Bill 96-20, the SMART Policing Act, is significantly amended, I will most likely be the only County Council member to vote No. The bill will be discussed on Sept. 29 and voted on Oct. 2.
If you remember, the first attempt at “police reform” legislation this summer was tabled by four members of the Council, including myself. The measures in that legislation were so cumbersome and unworkable that the bill was opposed by the Baltimore County Police Chief, the State’s Attorney, and the Fraternal Order of Police. I voted to table that bill in case it had any possibility of passage.
Bill 96-20, given an acronym that’s hard to disagree with, is a watered down version of the original bill. Most of what 96-20 calls for is already being done by long-standing police department policy and procedures or announced by the County Executive as new initiatives in early June. I do not see a reason to legislate those policies and procedures, especially when most laws governing how local police operate are federal and state statutes.
In fact, the House of Delegates’ Work Group on Addressing Police Reform & Accountability in Maryland will make recommendations to the General Assembly later this year. Anything passed by the General Assembly will in all probability supersede whatever Baltimore County enacts.
So if 96-20 duplicates what is already being done and may be rendered obsolete by state law, why not just go along with my colleagues and vote Yes instead of being the lone No vote (again.) Here’s why: I represent the people of the 7th District, a community that supports our men and women in Blue. To have BCPD cast as an agency somehow in need of reform is an insult to them, and I believe police work is difficult enough without politician’s unwarranted interference.
From 2010 -2019, BCPD has handled more than 6 million Calls for Service, with a total of 877 citizen complaints made against the department in that period. In that same time period, BCPD made a little over 265,000 arrests. Only 1.1% of those arrests involved Use of Force. This does not sound like a police department in need of reform, but one that should be honored.