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White Marsh Precinct police officers stand with Property Manager for Park East Community Apartments Danielle Fowlkes during National Night Out.

BALTIMORE COUNTY—The Baltimore County Council on Monday night passed a bill containing a package of initiatives intended to improve and modernize policing in the county while strengthening community relations.

Called the Strengthening Modernization, Accountability, Reform, and Transparency (SMART) Policing Act, it passed by a vote of 6-1.

Todd Crandell, a Republican representing the 7th District, was the lone dissenting vote.

“Today Baltimore County has taken a critical—and united—next step toward equal justice,” County Executive John Olszewski Jr. said in a prepared statement. “The SMART Policing Act will make our Police Department and our County better for everyone.

“I’m grateful to my colleagues on the County Council for ensuring bipartisan progress in meeting the challenge that this moment demands. This is not the end, but it is another important step towards a more just and equitable future.”

Voting in favor of the bill were Tom Quirk, 1st District; Israel Patoka, 2nd District; Wade Kach, third district; Julian Jones, 4rth district; David Marks, 5th district; and Cathy Bevins, 6th district.

Kach and Marks are Republicans; the others are Democrats.

As introduced last month, the SMART Policing Act consisted of:

Modernizes Policing Tactics

  • by:
  • Banning the use of all neck restraints, including chokeholds, unless a person’s life is in immediate jeopardy;
  • Requiring a policy specifying that officers render aid or call for medical care for any individual in police custody who has an obvious injury or complaint of injury;
  • Requiring the Baltimore County Police Department to introduce policy affirming the sanctity of life and the dignity and value of all persons;

Enhances and Enshrines Reforms on Use of Force

  • by:
  • Requiring the Department to introduce policies to limit the use of force;
  • Requiring the Department to introduce policy obligating officers to intervene to stop fellow officers from using excessive force and report uses of force;
  • Providing protections to prohibit retaliation against those who report misconduct;
  • Requiring the Department to implement an early intervention system to provide officers at-risk of engaging in the use of excessive force with additional training or other behavioral interventions;

Improves Training and Accountability

  • by:
  • Barring individuals with prior disciplinary records in other jurisdictions or agencies from serving as a Baltimore County Police Officer;
  • Requiring annual training in de-escalation, implicit bias, and the use of force;

Expands Transparency

  • by:
  • Authorizing the Chief of Police to select up to two members of the public to serve on a police hearing board. Due to state law, final approval of the membership is subject to collective bargaining;
  • Requiring collection and public access to use of force data and police involved shootings.

A response posted by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4 last summer (when the reform bill that would eventually become the SMART Act was first introduced) said county police already practice what is required by the bill.

Jones, who had introduced the bill along with Olszewski, had wanted to add four amendments: clarity on the chokehold exception, expanding whistleblower protections to apply to all police misconduct, and specifying civilians may be appointed as voting members on the Police Department’s disciplinary hearing boards.

The fourth amendment would require the county police chief to present a ‘use of force’ report to the county council every year by April 1.

Jones removed those amendments before Monday’s vote. The fourth amendment was still passed.

When the bill was introduced last month, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4 President David Rose released a statement describing how the lodge had worked with members of the county council, Chief Melissa Hyatt and Olszewski to craft legislation to modernize department policies and strengthen the relationship with citizens of Baltimore County.

“The FOP Executive Board of Directors has voted to support the SMART Policing Act draft legislation that was circulated to all parties over the Labor Day weekend,” Rose wrote.

The Lodge has not yet issued a statement on the bill’s passing as of Tuesday.

Over the summer, the Lodge posted statistics showing that over the 10-year period of 2010-19, Baltimore County Police had shown a significant downward trend in incident of use of force, use of firearms and citizen complaints, despite a major increase in the county population and calls for service.

A response posted in July also stated Baltimore County Police already restricted chokeholds to situations “where it is objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances to use deadly force.”

The Lodge also pointed out de-escalation training is already emphasized in the academy, and officers are trained to exhaust all alternatives before shooting (including non-force or less-lethal force).

All Baltimore County Police Officers are trained to recognize the sanctity of life, the response read. Deadly force may only be used when necessary and all uses of force must be “reasonably based on the totality of the circumstances.”

National Night Out

The topic of police reform and what role police play in communities has been prominent this year—making this year’s National Night Out more relevant and perhaps needed than ever before.

National Night Out is a community-building campaign that police precincts from around the country participate in every year where police officers and residents meet together to enhance relationships with the goal of keeping neighborhoods safe.

This event usually takes place on the first Tuesday in August but due to COVID-19 stipulations, it was postponed to this Tuesday. Precincts throughout Baltimore County held their own National Night Out events where the theme at each event was the same – to keep your community, businesses and visitors safe. Although there weren’t many Park East Community residents who showed up for the White Marsh precincts National Night Out event, Danielle Fowlkes, Property Manager for Park East Apartments, said she is “grateful” to have a good relationship the police department and that people in the community still have faith in law enforcement.

“I believe my residents still have trust in the police department. I don’t want to speak to anyone in particular but I have not heard anything and I myself still have trust in the police community,” Fowlkes said.

Fowlkes, who is an African American woman and has family members who are police officers, said she has planned several National Night Out events as property manager at Park East Apartments and hopes to continue community outreach events with police.

“The police department is usually seen in a bad light so something like this for National Night Out will help people trust the police department because they will get a friendly face with a community event opposed to them coming out for an emergency.”

Cathleen Batton, White Marsh Precinct Captain, said the police department has had a difficult time connecting with residents this year due to COVID-19.

“The pandemic has really put an impact on our ability to connect with people and for them to see us in their communities in a positive fashion. It’s been a difficult year for everyone-not just for law enforcement.”

Batton said she wouldn’t comment on the newly passed police reform bill but said she think’s it important to listen to people in the community to see what type of enforcement they expect from their police officers. She also talked about how all the protests in the county that arose after George Floyd died while in police custody this past summer were peaceful.

“We were very fortunate in Baltimore County, we were able to work with all our protestors and we had very peaceful demonstrations. It was important for us to support people in expressing their first amendment rights and we got to hear a lot of information from our communities.”

The next opportunity for police to hear from the community is National Faith in Blue Weekend—where police and faith based leaders are encouraged to collaborate together to host community events where people can engage with law enforcement officers. Trinity Church of Essex will be hosting a free Faith in Blue event on Saturday, October 10 from 12 p.m. – 4p.m.

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