Members of Baltimore’s Civilian Review Board will meet with Harlem Park residents tonight to discuss the police accountability process and answers questions about their recent situation in which police cordoned off their neighborhood for days.
A little over a week ago, Baltimore police lifted restrictive barriers on a section of the West Baltimore neighborhood after five days spent blocking off streets with squad cars, patting down residents, checking IDs and refusing to let some people enter or exit an area encompassing roughly four blocks.
Residents had complained of being stuck, unable to get to work or around the city under orders from law enforcement. The ACLU of Maryland’s David Rocah said it pushed the limits of “lawful police behavior” and that neighbors deserved a “clear explanation” from the city.
Less than one week earlier, Det. Sean Suiter was murdered at point-blank range while investigating a 2016 triple homicide in a vacant lot near Bennett Place and N. Fremont Avenue, a known hotspot for violence. Suiter’s killing remains unsolved; police have said he was shot with his own gun.
Jill Carter, a former Baltimore City delegate who Mayor Catherine Pugh appointed this year to lead the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, said her office called tonight’s town hall at Metropolitan United Methodist Church due to an outpouring of concerns from residents about the prolonged police hold on their neighborhood.
“Our office has received a growing number of phone calls, and messages via social media about what role the Civilian Review Board might be able to play in addressing the concerns of residents in the community impacted by the police presence,” Carter said in a statement.
Carter’s office houses the Civilian Review Board, a recurring subject of conversations surrounding police reform in Baltimore since Freddie Gray’s 2015 death in police custody. The board was a particularly hot topic as city and federal lawyers negotiated the now-active consent decree for the city police department.
The Civilian Review Board was created more than 20 years ago to give citizens some power to hold police officers accountable for complaints of excessive force and other misconduct. At its best, the independent body is supposed to review al complaints from citizens and, when appropriate and justified, issue recommendations to the police commissioner about how to punish perpetrating officers.
Unfortunately, investigations have found police weren’t forwarding most misconduct complaints to its members, as required. Additionally, the board has experienced high turnover, even remaining empty for months after Pugh took office.
Fortunately, the mayor has since filled its ranks with nine new members, one representing each of the city’s police districts. They were sworn in on Nov. 20.
The finished consent decree, among many other mandated changes, required the city to create a task force devoted entirely to reviewing the Civilian Review Board’s function and making it a more effective agency. The task force has since recommended giving the board power to investigate additional forms of misconduct (currently capped at just five types – excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, harassment and abusive language), investigate anonymous complaints and give members full access to police evidence and information, among other expanded powers.
Tonight’s town hall meeting will run from 6 to 8 p.m. at Metropolitan United Methodist Church, located as 1121 W. Lanvale Street. Click here for more info.
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