BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Mayor Brandon Scott on Thursday signed into law a bill establishing a police accountability board as part of his administration's effort to restore trust between the community and the Baltimore Police Department.
The legislation was passed Monday by the Baltimore City Council. It establishes the 17-member board, whose duties include reviewing police complaints and appointing citizens to serve on an administrative charging committee, which will be tasked with recommending discipline for officers formally accused of misconduct.
The final version of the bill included multiple amendments, one of them leaving the door open to former officers serving on the board.
Councilman Mark Conway, the bill's sponsor, said the board will ultimately help police work better with the community they are sworn to protect and serve.
"We have a number of significant issues with our police department leading into mistrust and distrust with our police officers," Conway said Thursday. "We know that distrust has made their job more difficult ultimately."
Speaking at a news conference, Mayor Scott said police reform has been a key piece of his career in public service and is one of the top priorities of his administration.
"It is necessary...that we ensure that while we want our officers engaging in our community, that we're doing that through constitutional policing and ways that rebuild trust with our community," Scott said. "Trust that we all know has been marred by past corruption, wrongdoing and criminal acts against our residents perpetrated by rogue individuals of our police department."
The bill's signing came a day before a deadline imposed last year by the Maryland General Assembly requiring every jurisdiction in Maryland to have its own police accountability board.
Each member of the Baltimore City Council will appoint a member to the police accountability board, though each appointment is subject to the approval of the mayor.
"For years, I've said who's said civilian review here was a toothless tiger, and this isn't perfect by far and we have a long way to go, but this is the strengthening of accountability for police in Baltimore City," Citizens Policing Project Executive Director Ray Kelly said. "Even though we have the language that permits the most diverse board possible, we have to ensure it is the most diverse board possible."
The legislation also follows the downfall of the police department's Gun Trace Task Force, a specialized unit of officers. Over a dozen officers were brought down on allegations including the robbery of citizens, the theft and sale of drugs, falsified reports and overtime, along with attempts to cover it up.
Several of the Gun Trace Task Force's members, whose deeds are chronicled in the HBO series "We Own This City," are serving time in prison after being convicted of various criminal charges since the first wave of indictments in 2017.
"Simply put, if the residents of Baltimore don't trust our police, we have no hope in resolving the violence that is gripping our city," the mayor said Thursday.
The Campaign for Justice, Safety, and Jobs and the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability pushed for amendments to the bill, including lifting restrictions of who could serve on it. The bill allows for people with criminal records and undocumented immigrants to serve.
"The most important member of the PAB are the members most impacted by police violence," CASA de Maryland's Region Director Lydia Walther-Rodriguez said. "This board is a step forward for police accountability, but it can't be all."
With House Bill 670 in 2021, Maryland's General Assembly mandated every county and Baltimore City establish a police accountability board. State law prohibits police from serving on the board. Baltimore City's bill limits the number of former law enforcement officers to two.
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