The process of forming state-mandated panels to consider assessing the performance of local law enforcement officers who have citizens’ complaints lodged against them has reached the public hearing milestone in Calvert County.
The county commissioners are conducting the hearing Tuesday night, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m. at the Harriet Elizabeth Brown Community Center in Prince Frederick. The board must draft measures to provide for three panels — the police accountability board, the administrative charging committee and a trial board.
The formation of the panels in each Maryland county is mandated by the Police Accountability Act of 2021, passed by the state’s General Assembly.
“It does look like we are ahead of the curve,” said John Norris, the county attorney who is counsel to the commissioners.
“The goal is to do it right, not fast,” Commissioner Earl F. “Buddy” Hance (R) added.
The panels are supposed to be up and running by this coming July in order for Calvert to be compliant.
Two public meetings have been held with considerable comment received from the public. Many of the issues deal with the role retired law enforcement will be allowed to play, the demographic makeup of the boards and vetting the boards’ applicants.
During the commissioners’ Jan. 11 meeting, Norris reviewed the second draft as well as comments received on that draft during the most recent public meeting and comments forwarded from the public and organizations.
In written testimony the local Fraternal Order of Police advocated for background checks instead of vetting applicants using jury standards. Listing several offenses — including animal cruelty, arson, counterfeiting, kidnapping, possession of child pornography — the FOP leaders stated allowing someone who is charged and found guilty of one of the offenses a seat on the police accountability board would be “totally unacceptable.”
Norris recommended the commissioners “leave the juror standards in.”
Public comments received after the commissioners voted 4-to-0 to accept Norris’ suggestions to the public hearing were decisively in favor of using background checks instead.
Ed Bailor of Owings declared the original proposal written by former commissioner Thomas E. “Tim” Hutchins was a “well-written, well-founded plan.” He asked the commissioners to reconsider it. Bailor not that at the second public meeting, testimony was offered by some individuals who were “admitted criminals” who “had a vendetta” against the police and wanted to be members of the board.
“You can’t allow that to happen,” Bailor told the board.
“I want to see our criteria tightened up,” said Catherine Grasso, who spoke via telephone — she has filed to run for commissioner in the third election district in the Republican primary. Grasso added the makeup of the panels “should represent the demographics of Calvert County” and that background checks for applicants was “imperative.”
A view about establishing cultural diversity and having law enforcement retirees serve on the panel was emailed to Norris by Mike Shisler, retired Beach Elementary School principal, who sent a copy of his missive to Southern Maryland News.
“When I read the current draft online, I was surprised again by the membership section,” Shisler stated. “It still opens with the ‘to the extent practicable’ phrase which is not a firm commitment to reflect the ‘racial, gender and cultural diversity of Calvert County.’ It’s a hedge phrase, a bailout to cover a board that could look too male, too white and too police-oriented.”
On the issue of retired law enforcement, Shisler noted, “The current draft states that the PAB chairperson will be a retired law officer who had command or supervisory experience? Are we grooming this position for someone in particular? Previous drafts simply stated, ‘the chairperson of the [accountability board] shall have experience relevant to the position.’ Past drafts had two members being retired law officers. The current draft has three members being retired law officers. So that’s four of the nine PAB members being retired officers. In my opinion, that’s moving away from the stated consensus of the previous two public meetings where folks urged that the PAB be transparent with a clear, citizen-based, citizen-oriented membership.”
Seating at the public hearing next Tuesday will be limited to the first 50 people. The public may attend the meeting through Zoom.