Police in Baltimore County are due for some sweeping changes after a series of announcements by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz late this morning.
In a press conference, Kamenetz said the Baltimore County Police Department plans to “up our game” after a series of controversies that brought national scrutiny to the agency. First there was the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines in Randallstown on Aug. 1. Then there was Buzzfeed’s investigative report alleging the department deemed a large share of reported sex assaults false or baseless. And in late September, 21-year-old Tawon Boyd was killed after an altercation with officers and medics following a domestic incident at his Middle River home.
“These have been very challenging times for police-community relations across the country,” Kamenetz said. “However, each event reinforces the need to build trust emphasizing the need to build open communication and transparency.”
He also commended the department, calling it “nationally recognized,” but said “a great police department never rests on its laurels. It continually adjusts and strives to improve.”
As a result, police will be:
- Speeding up the implementation of body cameras for officers. Presently, the department has equipped 128 officers with them since July, but the county now plans to equip 1,435 officers with the devices by September 2017, 14 months earlier than originally planned. While cameras cannot prevent police misconduct or violence against police, Kamenetz said they will “make our community and our officers safer.”
- Overhauling their investigative policy for second-degree sex assault cases. The county publicly disagrees with some of Buzzfeed’s conclusions, but Kamenetz gave the report some credit for spurring the county to strengthen its policies for handling those cases. Police Chief Jim Johnson said the department take its role in those cases seriously. All victims who report sexual assaults to police, along with any suspects, will be personally interviewed by a detective, starting today. The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and retired Baltimore County Judge Barbara Howe will be independently reviewing the department’s policies and recommending changes.
- Review cultural competency and deescalation training for officers. The county has asked the nonprofit Council of State Governments Justice Center to conduct a review. Police are hoping to make officers more effective communicators and better equip them to deescalate “emotional encounters, particularly those involving individuals with behavioral health issues.” Kamenetz referenced the Gaines case calling it a “tragic incident,” but said he couldn’t talk specifics due to pending litigation.
By no means did Kamenetz publicly throw the department under the bus. “We’re good, but we can always be better,” he said.
But just because Baltimore County police aren’t awaiting a DOJ-mandated consent decree doesn’t mean they aren’t clearly lacking in some areas. It will take some time to see whether more body cameras and better investigative and training policies can prevent police-involved deaths and other travesties.
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