US Prince George’s police reforms to include a director for race and gender equity and more data collection to track possible racial profiling

03:11  06 february  2021
03:11  06 february  2021 Source:   washingtonpost.com

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Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks plans to implement 46 of the 50 police reforms that were recommended last fall by a work group she created after the county police chief resigned and in the wake of nationwide uprisings over systemic racism.

The changes include supporting the repeal of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, reducing police in county schools, providing incentives for officers who live in the county and a “reimagining” of the police department’s budget. The county said it will improve data-keeping practices overall, including for traffic stops and no-knock and night warrants — which the reform group said would increase transparency and detect patterns of racial profiling.

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The county will also establish an Office of Integrity and Compliance that is independent from the police department. The department’s inspector general will move to serve as director of the new office, which will have its own staff — including a director for race and gender equity.

Alsobrooks (D) framed the reform plan as a model for the country and an opportunity for a county familiar with reform initiatives to try again. The reform comes as the county continues to search for a new permanent police chief, who will be expected to implement the changes.

“It is not difficult to recognize an issue,” Alsobrooks said. “It is a whole different matter to do something about it, and we are doing something about it.”

The work group co-chairs, Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s) and circuit court Judge Maureen Lamasney, both thanked Alsobrooks for fulfilling her promise to answer calls for police reform.

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Washington said the group’s recommendations were a “direct response to our community’s demand for systemic changes.”

Their research, he said, found “problems within hiring and recruitment, transparency on community complaints and community complaint process, high levels of misconduct and excessive use of force by officers, poor data collection procedures and data analysis, lack of internal and external oversight and accountability, and low to moderate trust between our police department and our community.”

“We have a great police department and police officers, however they are working within a historically flawed system,” Washington said during the news conference.

Thirty-five of the recommendations were accepted as written by the work group, and 11 of them were adopted with modifications. Four were rejected — two from the finance subcommittee and two from the internal policies and regulation group.

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The timetable for the recommendations — and who will oversee the implementation of these sweeping changes — remains unclear.

Since June, the department has been without a permanent police chief. Interim Chief Hector Velez has been leading the department since former chief Hank Stawisnki resigned amid allegations of racism within the department by current and former officers of color. Those officers have alleged in a federal lawsuit that the department’s hiring, recruiting and disciplinary practices are discriminatory.

When asked during the news conference Friday if she believed the reform recommendations validated the allegations in the lawsuit, Alsobrooks said “the two are completely separate from each other.”

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“One was filed in the courthouse, and we are going to let it be resolved in the courthouse,” she said. “In the meanwhile, we didn’t wait, we are looking at ourselves and we are going to make any changes necessary.”

The county executive’s office initially hoped to install a new chief by the end of 2020, but an extensive national search for the best candidate is still ongoing. At the news conference Friday, Alsobrooks said she hopes to conclude interviews for the job within the next couple weeks.

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“We do have a very talented interim police chief,” Alsobrooks said. “I promised the community that we would conduct a comprehensive search, and I’m following through on my promise.”

No matter the choice, she added, the new chief will be expected to implement the reforms.

Velez said he and the department were “committed to the reforms and the recommendations that have been put forward.”

Velez said two initiatives were already underway, including the department’s participation in a program through Georgetown Law that teaches officers how to stop other officers from harmful behavior.

The county council also intends to establish a duty-to-intervene policy, which would require officers to report suspected wrongdoing by colleagues.

Velez said educational aspects of the police academy are also undergoing reforms. In the “near future,” he said, recruits will receive a history of police.

“And I’m not talking about, Boston was the first police department, and then moving forward,” he said. “I’m talking about the complex, historical relationship between law enforcement and communities of color. A lot of these officers come into the academy and they have no idea what has transpired before them.”

County council chairman Calvin S. Hawkins II (D-At Large) said his body was eager to work with state lawmakers and the county executive to implement the recommended reforms. He also praised Velez for answering the work group’s questions and working transparently to deliver requested information and data.

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“You’re the leader this county police department needs at this time,” Hawkins said.

The work group — made up of community organizers, representatives from the offices of the state’s attorney and public defender, academics and religious leaders — presented their 106-page report to Alsobrooks last fall. It came after two listening sessions with the public, 17 scheduled meetings, 32 presentations and dozens of other gatherings across the five subcommittees — all over Zoom in the middle of a pandemic.

Krystal Oriadha, who co-founded PG Change Makers after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last May, served on the committee as a representative of the residents. She said she was pleased to hear Alsobrooks had accepted many of their recommendations and promised to closely examine her plans with other community groups — including scrutinizing what was left out or amended.

Changes to one request — to give prosecutors and public defenders greater access to police personnel files — were attributed to limitations under Maryland law that, according to the county, considers those files confidential. That issue is at the heart of the discrimination lawsuit against the department is pending in the courts.

Of the four recommendations that were rejected outright, one about diversion programs was scrapped because of redundancy concerns. Another regarding funding for specialty units was incorporated into a different request to re-examine the police budget.

Alsobrooks and Velez said it will not adopt the group’s recommendation to “remove racial biases” from a gang registry the department uses because it is controlled by the federal government — which bucks a regional trend of law enforcement agencies ceasing participation in the registry.

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And another request, to “consider the feasibility” of transferring traffic enforcement work away from the police department, was also abandoned. The executive’s office said increased data collection could inform a conversation on that topic at a later time.

Prince George’s Public Defender Keith Lotridge, who sat on the work group and advocated for greater transparency, said he believed Alsobrooks’s approach to the last eight months has been a “genuine” effort to address the challenges the county is facing.

“It’s the first step,” he said. “I look forward to more open discussions and progress.”

Angelo Consoli, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge for Prince George’s County, said that the union looks forward to working with the county, department and community to “work towards improving transparency for and trust by the citizens we serve.”

Judy Danso, chief of staff for Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy and a work group member, said Alsobrooks “took swift action to ensure that this group was pulled together to really reflect upon the need for change and reform in our county, and it could not have come at a better time with such a dynamic group of intellectual minds who are passionate about this issue.”

Read more: Fight over release of details in expert report alleging police misconduct, racism continues in Maryland Minority officers release 12 ideas to overhaul Prince George’s police In Maryland’s largest suburb, an ambitious police overhaul faces roadblocks a group of people wearing military uniforms: Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks, right. © Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks, right.

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