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  April 8, 2016

Police Reform Is Meaningless Without Civilian Oversight, Advocates Say

Advocates and former law enforcement say to hold police accountable, Maryland must make a civilian presence on internal police boards mandatory
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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: It's almost been a year since Freddie Gray died and was arrested in police custody, and advocates from Baltimore are again demanding change in the state capital, Annapolis.

A current measure pending approval makes changes to the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, adding civilians to the internal police review boards that review allegations of misconduct. The measure has been strongly opposed by the law enforcement lobby and police unions, but critics say some form of civilian oversight and participation is necessary to hold police accountable and stop police abuse. Even before Freddie Gray died in police custody, the Sun exposed the city had settled over 100 lawsuits to a tune of nearly 6 million dollars in cases of alleged abuse, where accused rarely faced internal discipline or criminal charges.

LAWRENCE GRANDPRE: In Baltimore, Maryland we have these police trial boards, that when a police is accused of wrongdoing it definitely becomes a criminal issue. You have the issue of suspension and potential termination. And all [of this] happens internally. It's a very opaque, very shadowy process. And the worst part of it is that it's all done with cops making the final decision as to whether another police officer should be suspended or fired. And our argument is that this bill that's calling itself police reform has to ensure that as our tax dollars pay for policing and as policing of the public good the community is substantively involved in the process of determining whether the way policing is done is appropriate for the community. The clearest manifestation of that will be ensuring and mandating that we actually have known police officers, people from the community that's aggrieved on these police trial boards, because as we know, accused police wrongdoing does not enter the criminal system, even if it should. And the biggest deterrent to wrongdoing would be having a meaningful shot on these police trial boards that if a cop does do something wrong, they're going to be held accountable and they're going to be suspended. And we're trying to get that language attached to this larger Senate bill.

NOOR: After the rally at City Hall advocates were set to travel to Annapolis, the state capital, to lobby state representatives to ensure a civilian presence on the review board was mandatory.

GARLAND NIXON: Most people do not trust the system enough to believe that if, for instance, a police chief has the option of appointing citizens to an internal hearing board or trial board that it will ever happen. Most people don't feel that that will happen. And there's a very good reason, if you look at Baltimore alone a police chief, even well-meaning, has to deal with the FOP, which is a very, very powerful institution. So it's quite possible that in having to negotiate collective bargainings and all the other things, the FOP could put so much pressure on the chief of police that they just couldn't do it if they wanted to.

So you can't count on the chief of police, or you can't count necessarily on having to ask somebody to do the right thing. If the law is there we know they'll do the right thing.

NOOR: But in its current form the police chief or the mayor would choose these members anyway, from the public, right. So aren't they going to pick people who are going to be more police?

NIXON: Well, the fact of the matter is this: I think that that can be dealt with. I mean, we can certainly the--when I say we what I mean is the local community organizations--have the ability to put pressure on the mayor, the city council, et cetera, to help to steer this process in the right direction as to who gets picked.

NOOR: But State Delegate Jill Carter told the Real News Republican governor Larry Hogan escorted delegates out of chambers out of concern for protests.

ADAM JACKSON: The fundamental issue is that people in Baltimore want to have citizen involvement and police discipline, and the fact that people are fearing protest and all those things, they should--on the one hand they should be, because the people want transformation, they want the laws changed, they want reforms. They want these things, these dynamics, these structural dynamics to change over time, and people are moving too slow. And so now--but it's like, it's like manufacturing all this hype and all this negative energy around activism and organizing. They should be embracing that. They should be talking to us consistently about how to engage people who want to protest.

But the thing is we're--what we're here for, we're just making a statement, we're going to Annapolis, being present to show them that they can't just pass laws without community involvement and community engagement and community power. So ultimately it's kind of silly, you know, because it's not like we're planning to do anything violent. I think it's just another instance of politicians manufacturing this narrative of the violent, angry black protester to suit their own political ends.

NOOR: And this wouldn't be this kind of reaction if the FOP was having a rally or sending people down there.

JACKSON: And they've got guns. Right. It's like, that's the police. But most of, but like you said, it's one of those things where the dynamics, because we live in a white supremacist society that poses people like us as angry, irrational people, we've been working in Annapolis, going to the meetings, going to the committee rooms, going in there every day like lobbyists are. And no one talks about that work. But then as soon as we plan to do an action that was like, we're removing people from chambers in fear of protests.

NOOR: Does the police deserve the public's trust at this point? Or should people be, should people not trust the police, considering all their misconduct, $5.7 million paid out in the last five years. On the death of Freddie Gray, death of other civilians, should they, shouldn't they have to earn that trust?

NIXON: Absolutely. The people in Baltimore City do not--clearly when we talk about building trust we're not talking about the police trusting the citizens. We're talking about the citizens trusting the police. Clearly the people, the citizens of Baltimore, have valid reasons to mistrust the city. And to be honest, to mistrust the city council and the mayor, because they're who are in control. So yes, I agree that the people don't trust--it's clear. The people don't trust city police, and they have to do everything they can to build that trust. And the best way to do it is meaningful civilian oversight.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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