Wicomico Co. Council to consider Police Accountability Board legislation
WICOMICO COUNTY, Md. – Wicomico County Council is working on legislation required by the state under the Maryland Police Accountability Act (MPAA) of 2021. The MPAA repealed the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR). It also required jurisdictions to come up with their own police accountability boards, among other sweeping changes.
Board Actions, Transparency
Wicomico County’s draft legislation is only a couple of weeks old. But, some community stakeholders are already raising concerns. Organizer for the ACLU of Maryland Eastern Shore Jared Schablein says the bill, as it stands now, contains several flaws.
Schablein says language in the bill would prevent the Police Accountability Board (PAB) from communicating findings with the community. “Really, it is counterintuitive to the entire purpose of what the board legislation was for: to build trust and accountability in the community,” he said.
Proponents for changes to the bill also take issue with how PAB members would be trained for the job. Currently, that section of the bill reads “Members must complete required training before serving on a Wicomico County Police Accountability Board. The required training shall be set by the County Executive.”
“What does that mean exactly?” said Schablein. “We do have an election for County Executive coming up. We don’t know who’s going to be the next County Executive. So, we just want to have some rules so the next County Executive administration isn’t just walking in and saying ‘Okay, what do I do now?'”
Representation For All
Another potential change would be to ensure PAB members represent each part of the community. Schablein says that includes different gender identities, sexualities, races, and ethnicities. Equally as important, according to Schablein, is allowing those with a criminal background to participate.
“We need to make sure people who have experience in the criminal justice system have the opportunity to share their experiences, so we can improve and make a more just system for everyone involved,” said Schablein. “How can we do that if we don’t have anyone with experience, or we’re only looking at it from one direction?”
Proponents of changes to the bill are also asking that the PAB be independent from the County, itself. “We’re a very diverse community here in Wicomico County. It’s definitely important that that is reflected in this Police Accountability Board,” said Schablein.
Schablein and others are also calling out what they deem to be a conflict of interest; the current legislation rules that the PAB chair must be a retired sworn law enforcement officer with at least 20 years of service in Maryland law enforcement. “Law enforcement’s opinions are very crucial in this matter. But, we also need to make sure that this is accountability,” said Schablein. “Unfortunately, having it be a prosecutor or someone who’s been a law enforcement officer for 20 years is like the fox guarding the henhouse.”
Meanwhile, Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis says he has his own reservations about the changes coming under the MPAA. Sheriff Lewis outlined those concerns in a statement to 47ABC.
“The statewide administrative matrix for how to process these [police misconduct] cases in in a state of flux right now. The [MPAA] was based on and passed on emotions, coupled with a complete disdain for the Maryland law enforcement profession, a profession they don’t respect,” wrote Sheriff Lewis. “Those leading the charge in Annapolis, due to the lack of interest and learning more about the LEOBOR and its processes, followed little logic, zero logistics, and have now made it more difficult for Sheriffs and Chiefs to not only weed out potentially rogue and corrupt police officers, but they’ve made it much more difficult to swiftly discipline and or terminate them as well.”
“Everybody wants to get it right”
Tuesday, the bill will be opened up to public comment before the Wicomico County Council. “Right now it’s in the really early stages. We only had a chance to really review it in the last couple of weeks, to know exactly the direction that Wicomico County may be heading,” said Council President John Cannon.
Cannon says he’s confident community leaders and members will be able to come up with a solution that fits everyone’s needs. However, he wants constituents to remember the text within the bill isn’t set in stone just yet. “To many people, it’s very important. Everybody wants to get it right, and we anticipate that even after everything is done, it’s going to be amended again,” said Cannon. “The Executive is going to have to do his part of the process, and the Council will do its part of the process. I think we’ll manage to make it work.”