Council supports oversight of police Assembly to consider measure calling for citizens' board

March 10, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore City Council last night put its support behind a state bill that would allow the city to create a police citizens' review board.

For years, city leaders have debated whether citizen oversight of the Police Department is necessary. The issue resurfaced in August when a police officer shot a knife-wielding 22-year-old man outside Lexington Market.

Although passing last night's resolution was a token gesture, the overwhelming council support showed that the call for residents to investigate complaints against police remains alive.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said last night that if the House of Delegates bill passes the legislature, the council would likely approve creating the citizens' board.

"This is a way to make the system more objective," Bell said.

Bell gained the support of minority council members and Councilman Martin O'Malley of the 3rd District, a former prosecutor.

The citizens' panel is needed to ensure racial equality in police cases, O'Malley said. "If you are a black citizen complaining about a police officer, the percentage odds of that resulting in any punishment at all is very small," O'Malley said.

But Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. of the 1st District called resident scrutiny of the Police Department unfair. If residents are empowered to rule on police matters, they should also have oversight of other city departments, D'Adamo said.

Councilman Melvin L. Stukes of the 6th District said Police Department scrutiny is needed.

"The Police Department has the capacity to kill," Stukes said. "No one gets killed in these other [city] agencies."

State Del. Salima S. Marriott, a Baltimore Democrat, introduced House Bill 485. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week on the bill. On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee will take up the matter.

In a letter to the council, Marriott said its support of the bill through a resolution could help influence the Judiciary Committee to support it.

"The citizens of Baltimore have expressed concern with the internal investigation unit of the Baltimore City Police Department for several decades," Marriott wrote.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has said he would be willing to discuss the creation of a citizens' panel, but he questions its effectiveness. Frazier worked with a similar board while serving as a police administrator in San Jose, Calif., Bell said.

"In the past, the commissioner has been more than willing to review the concept," police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. said last night. "However, he realizes the limited success it's had in other cities."

Pub Date: 3/10/98

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