Civilian review board still concerned about lack of meaningful role

June 26, 2014|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's police civilian review board has concerns that a new effort to garner input from the board is not meaningful, an official told a City Council committee on Wednesday night. 

After years of neglect, the department has been making strides to make the board more relevant, and recently announced that it would refer major use of force investigations, such as police-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, to the board after they were completed.

Members of the board have long said police fail to follow their recommendations and do not want their duties regarding use of force cases to be superficial, said Alvin Gillard, executive director of the city's Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, who oversees the civilian review board.

"The board has concerns," Gillard told members of the city council's public safety committee. "It will not sign off in a perfunctory role in this review process."

Gillard said the board's history with the Police Department "has not always yielded what the board believes is a serious review of what the board has presented to the Baltimore Police Department." 

Asked to respond to the comments, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said that the relationship with the board "wasn't working well" when he took over, but that the agency has been more collaborative. He did not comment on giving the board more input.

The Maryland General Assembly established the civilian review board in 2000 to examine cases of discourtesy and lesser excessive force cases. They review cases and can make recommendations to the Police Commissioner, though members have long said their recommendations are not followed. There are other cities, like Washington, D.C., that give their civilian panels more authority.

The Baltimore civilian review board's reports for 2010 to 2012 showed that the members voted to reverse the findings of internal affairs in 49 out of 812 — or 6 percent — allegations reviewed. 

The board fell into such irrelevancy in recent years that four of its nine positions had been long vacant, and of the filled positions, members had long overstayed their term limits, The Sun reported last year.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake filled the vacancies, and police - who are supposed to hold a non-voting position on the board - vowed to begin attending the board's meetings.

Gillard said the new board members want a true voice if police want them to look at police-involved shootings cases and other serious use-of-force cases. 

"There needs to be continuous discussions so that the civilian review board has some confidence that if they sign on to be a part of this process, that if a finding is made that is different from the review board, that those recommendations will be taken seriously," Gillard said.

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