Wrong time for civilian review board Anne Arundel County: Panel to review police would worsen tensions in Annapolis.

February 04, 1997

A CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT board for the Annapolis Police Department may diffuse the current hostility of the city's African American community toward the police, but that would be the wrong reason to create one.

If city officials want citizens to intervene in police department affairs and discipline, they must have very sound rationale.

Annapolis has not always had a professionally run department with properly trained, competent officers. At times in the past, a civilian review board was needed to curb blatant abuses of civil rights. But creating an oversight board today to address historic problems already corrected does not make a great deal of sense.

In the state capital's current climate, emotional cries to rein in the city's police will have considerable appeal.

That is especially true for those who believe the fatal shooting last Labor Day of 18-year-old Cochise Ornandez Daughtry by Officer David W. Garcia in response to an assault in progress symbolized an oppressive police force.

That unfortunate incident is not reason to create an oversight board. If a pattern of police shootings demonstrated hostility toward certain groups of citizens, poor training or lack of discipline, there would be ample justification for such a panel. No such pattern exists.

Establishing an oversight board -- even one with limited powers to discipline officers -- creates an adversarial relationship between citizens and the department, exacerbating any estrangement.

Members of a board would understandably envision their role as criticizing the department and highlighting its deficiencies. The department, in return, would feel compelled to defend itself, fueling the very dynamic that has produced the current tensions.

Annapolis first needs to explore other methods to create trust between police and the community. Outreach efforts such as police-sponsored youth athletic programs, regular community meetings and a willingness to listen to citizen complaints can effectively diffuse tensions and re-establish rapport.

These avenues must be explored before Annapolis leaders take the giant step of creating a civilian review board.

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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