Baltimore County Is Not L.A.

April 29, 1991

With the televised scene of the vicious, race-related beating of a Los Angeles motorist by police still lingering in the national consciousness, charges of similar police brutality anywhere are news. Such charges have been lodged against the Baltimore County Police Department by Rev. W. James Favorite, president of the Coalition of African-American Organizations.

Reverend Favorite says he has asked the state attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice to look into an alleged police beating of a suspect in Woodlawn. That request is at least premature and probably will not be necessary at all. First, there should be full investigations by the police department's own internal affairs and community relations divisions and by the county state's attorney's office. If those officials shirk their duty, then and only then would other agencies be needed.

What we know of the Baltimore County Police Department makes us view the charges skeptically. This is not the Los Angeles Police Department. It is one of only 18 departments in the nation that has been accredited and re-accredited by the prestigious Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. (L.A.'s has not been.) For six years, the department has been operating under strict standards dealing with the use of force, internal investigations, community awareness and community relations.

This doesn't prove that incidents like the one alleged in Woodlawn never happen. It does strongly suggest that if and when such acts do happen, they are exceptions to the rule, they are quickly and responsibly investigated, and appropriate corrective action follows.

Baltimore County's black population is growing. The county police need to be more sensitive to racial conflicts and misunderstandings than ever before. Below the level of excessive use of force there are many thoughtless assumptions and acts by officers that can poison police-citizen relations. In the suburbs no less than in the cities, such bad feelings are often the single most alienating factor in race relations.

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