Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

Months after Baltimore voters overwhelmingly approved that the police department come under local control, a legal issue in the Maryland General Assembly has delayed its full implementation. Now activists and several council members say the delays must come to an end.

Two bills in the current session would technically hand over legislative oversight of the department to the Baltimore City Council. The difference is when. One, sponsored by State Sen. Jill Carter, would start on June 1 while the other, sponsored by Del. Caylin Young, gives a date of Oct. 1, 2024.

At a City Council hearing Tuesday night, community members called for the adoption of Carter’s bill, saying “time is up for the political shell games.”

Activist and local journalist Caitlin Goldblatt said she was “confused” by the delay because restoring local control was one of Scott’s key campaign promises.  

“Mayor Scott once said local control of BPD is about racial justice. It’s about accountability, and it’s about representative democracy,” Goldblatt said. “We already voted on this.” 

In November, voters approved Question H, to restore local control of the city police department. The department has technically been a state agency for more than 160 years, a vestige of a Civil War-era decision intended to fight corruption. However, the control was never given back, which activists say has hampered oversight of the department for decades.

The office of Mayor Brandon Scott supports a compromise bill that would implement the change late this year, saying more community input is needed. However, at the hearing, speakers aggressively pushed back on further delay, accusing the mayor of slow walking the process.

“To say that we need more public input is frankly just a deliberate obfuscation,” said Sergio España, director of engagement mobilization for the ACLU.

Baltimore’s Chief Equity Officer Dana P. Moore, who also serves as chairwoman of the city’s Local Control Advisory Board, said her panel will issue an official recommendation for how local control will work in April, but the panel has landed on a “consensus view.”

Under the current plan, the mayor would have hiring and firing decisions over the police commissioner and the City Council would have legislative oversight of the department.

Previously, the idea of an independent commission to oversee the department was floated, but the panel said that the plan lacks support.

“This is an issue that’s been out there for decades, over a century now. And we know where the voters stand on this issue, and I think it’s important that we take that step,” said Councilman Mark Conway, who represents North Baltimore.

Conway said any issues with implementation could be addressed by the council in real-time.

“Give us some credit as a council,” Conway said. “We just really slow down our own gears unnecessarily. But I think it’s time now to just go and do this.”

Avatar photo

Tim Swift

Tim Swift is a local freelance writer and the former features editor for the Baltimore Sun.