City civilian review board is urged Citizens should be able to 'police the police,' meeting organizer says

June 28, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

About 30 people turned out at a meeting last night to renew calls for a civilian review board in Baltimore to investigate allegations of police misconduct -- an idea proposed most recently last year after an officer fatally shot a knife-wielding man near Lexington Market.

"Citizens should be in control of the Police Department," said Eric Easton, 40, a leader of Concerned Citizens for Police Accountability, which sponsored the meeting at Unity United Methodist Church in West Baltimore. "They should have the power to police the police."

A bill that would have allowed the city to create a review panel died this year in the state legislature after the city delegation overwhelmingly rejected it.

Police officials have questioned the effectiveness of such panels, saying residents have little experience conducting investigations. They have cited the limited success of boards in other jurisdictions.

"Most of them have no powers whatsoever," Gerald Arenberg, a spokesman for the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told The Sun last week. "Most police don't want review boards because [their members] aren't trained investigators. [Boards] could be used as political platforms."

Telling stories of their own and acquaintances' encounters with police misconduct, members of Concerned Citizens said a review board would help make the police more sensitive to residents and attentive to communities.

Several elected officials attending last night's meeting agreed.

"Accountability is one of the most preferred ways of getting people to do the right thing," said City Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr. of Southwest Baltimore.

Those sentiments were echoed by Dels. Salima S. Marriott and Clarence M. Mitchell IV, both Baltimore Democrats.

The move to create the review board surfaced in August after James Quarles was shot and killed by a city police officer in an incident videotaped by a bystander outside Lexington Market.

Residents and civic leaders said they were upset that authorities did not seek criminal charges against the officer, Charles M. Smothers II, who was fired in December -- for firing a gun in a 1995 domestic dispute.

Speakers yesterday said allegations that Frederick County sheriff's deputies used excessive force on two people in unrelated traffic stops this month highlighted a pressing need for civilian oversight.

But Del. Clarence Davis, a Baltimore Democrat who voted against the review board bill, said residents should hold their elected officials more accountable.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has said he questions the effectiveness of review boards but remains open to the idea.

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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