By Watta Camara
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Baltimore City Council unanimously approved a resolution on Monday that calls on the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow the city to have more power over the Baltimore Police Department.
Councilman Brandon Scott, D- Second District, the vice chairman of the public safety committee, said Baltimore is the only local government in Maryland that does not have direct jurisdiction over its police department.
Instead, the department is currently under control of the state and has been since the Baltimore Riots of 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War.
Whenever the city wants to make changes to the department – such as its request in 2015 to be permitted to hire new police commissioners for a period less than six years – it must receive approval from the Maryland General Assembly and governor.
“We have to go to Annapolis and ask them to pass laws that apply to Baltimore City,” Scott said. “They are never going to know what we know about Baltimore.”
Under current law, the council only has the power to select a commissioner for the department. Council members said they would like to have more control over police affairs given the city’s increased crime rate.
“[The citizens of Baltimore] think that we have control that we do not have,” Scott said. “We simply want to do what the citizens of Baltimore already think we do.”
State Del. Curtis Stovall (Curt) Anderson, D-Baltimore City, is sponsoring legislation (House Bill 1504) that would start the process of turning the police department back to local control. The resolution passed by the council urges the Legislature to approve that bill.
Referring to the man who was killed by police officers in 2015 and the mass demonstrations and riots that followed, Anderson and Scott argued in a Baltimore Sun op-ed article last February that “in a post Freddie Gray Baltimore, challenging the status quo to make a better Baltimore for all should be the new normal.”
They went on to write: “The Civil War is over, and the North won. It’s time to give Baltimore its police department back.”
While advocating for the resolution, Scott said 50 homicides have occurred in Baltimore City since the beginning of the year. He said the rising murder rate is one of the reasons why the council needs control over reforming the police department.
Scott said the Department of Justice has commented that the change of power would be more beneficial to Baltimore.