By Madison Disney
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and County Councilman Julian Jones, D-4th District, introduced a new bill Tuesday designed to improve policing and promote equity in law enforcement across the county.
The Strengthening Modernization, Accountability Reform and Transparency (SMART) Policing Act would ban chokeholds, limit uses of excessive force, and strengthen de-escalation training in the Baltimore County Police Department.
“We have a responsibility to work towards a more just future,” Olszewski said during a press conference this morning.
Olszewski cited the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin as examples of the institutional racism and lack of equity that have continued to be a problem across the country.
Olszewski and Jones said that the protests and marches they attended this summer taught them that the community is vocal in wanting change.
Jones said he planned to introduce the bill during the Baltimore County Council meeting today.
Miriam Sealock, a Towson University criminal justice professor, said legislation to improve how police departments are run is needed to address the very real inequities in arrest decision making.
“A fellow colleague and I investigated this issue from juvenile arrest records in the 50’s,” Sealock said. “We found that not only is gender-typing and arrest decision making based on race a huge issue, it’s an issue that continues to be notable in a variety of arrest cases. So, new policies like this are a step society should be taking, but there are still concerns of that being enough to make permanent change.”
The bill would require the police department to create policies that obligate officers to intervene to stop a fellow officer from using excessive force; provide protections for those who report misconduct in the department; and give officers at risk of engaging in excessive force additional training.
Individuals from other law enforcement agencies who have prior disciplinary records would be banned from serving in the county’s police department under the bill. The proposal would also authorize the police chief to select up to two members of the public to serve on a police hearing board, and the legislation would make data on the use of force and police-involved shootings available to the public.
“Now is the time to act with urgency,” Jones said. “This is not an anti-police movement, but a way to make the existing police department better.”
The bill received a positive greeting from other council members, including David Marks R-5th District, Izzy Patoka, D-2nd District, Wade Kach, R-3rd District, and Tom Quirk, D-1st District.
“This is a critical time and we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to expand community-based policing, promote crime reduction, and build public trust across Baltimore Council,” Council Chair Cathy Bevins, D-6th District, said in a statement released by the county.
Olszewski said the bill reflects a changing culture in county government. He also emphasized the importance of making hiring decisions so that all government departments better reflect the diversity of the county.
He said using public data on complaints, uses of force and traffic stops will work to put an end to use of excessive force in lawful action.