Local Control Delays
Last November, voters approved a charter amendment that granted city leaders control over the Baltimore City Police Department. The amendment went into effect in January. Prior to that, Baltimore was the only Maryland jurisdiction still under state control.
But the November vote didn’t end the fight over control of the department. As February ended and March began, leaders and activists were at odds over who currently had control of the department and when the switch to local control would happen.
Activists and some city leaders argue that Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration is slow-walking the process.
“Some advocates, including one member of the Local Control Advisory Board tasked with implementing the new power structure, have bristled at how Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration has shepherded the process,” The Baltimore Banner reported on March 1. “Their frustrations spread to City Council chambers last week, with council members admonishing the administration to get the ball rolling on what voters had already decided was a priority.”
“Y’all are really out here playing in our faces,” testified Rob Ferrell, senior organizer with Organizing Black. “We want the City Council, our local, elected legislators, to have legislative authority to make changes to BPD policy.”
“Several bills have been introduced by the General Assembly to address the wording change necessary to enact local control,” the Baltimore Sun reported. “Currently, city law states no ordinance other than those enacted by the mayor ‘shall conflict, impede, obstruct, hinder or interfere with the powers of the Police Commissioner,’ effectively leaving the City Council powerless.”
Those bills were introduced by state Senator Jill Carter and Delegate Stephanie Smith. If successfully passed, it would bring the Baltimore City Police Department under local control by June 1.
“I testified today in Annapolis for @jillpcarter’s bill, SB 758, which would restore local control of the Baltimore Police Department,” tweeted City Councilperson Mark Conway, who chairs the council’s Public Safety and Government Operations committee. “I hope we can honor the will of the voters who overwhelmingly passed this measure last year. Let’s get this done.”
New Public Safety Accountability Dashboard
On February 28, Mayor Brandon Scott, along with Shantay Jackson, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, unveiled a new public safety accountability dashboard.
The portal tracks crime in the city by pulling data from a number of places, including local and state agencies, police districts, Safe Streets sites, hospital-based violence intervention programs, and information provided by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
Users can access information sorted by police district or by neighborhood — or they can look at city statistics as a whole. Data available goes back to 2012.
“Evaluation and accountability are central pillars of Baltimore’s Comprehensive Violence Prevention Plan because when it comes to public safety, progress can and should be measured,” Scott said in a press release about the dashboard.
City leaders said they hope to further develop the dashboard in the future with more information and the ability to break down statistics by city council and state legislative districts.
Strengthening Renters’ Safety Act
Baltimore Councilperson Zeke Cohen is pushing new legislation intended to help renters by targeting slumlords. He introduced the Strengthening Renters’ Safety Act at a city council meeting held in late February. The legislation is aimed at eliminating several long-standing issues facing Baltimore renters by requiring more rigorous inspections for large buildings that are in bad condition, establishing a task force to oversee rental inspections, and allowing tenants to request inspections anonymously.
Cohen, along with Councilperson James Torrence, held a press conference to announce the legislation.
“We need a process that is different. Not just resident-driven, but a process that will be proactive in identifying these buildings,” Torrence said, according to Baltimore Brew. “We can’t allow people to sit and feel powerless when the city can do better.”
“A rental licensing overhaul that came out of the Council five years ago was supposed to solve this problem,” the Brew reported. “But it ended up more ‘carrot’ than ‘stick,’ rewarding landlords who fix violations promptly and pass their inspections with a less frequent inspection schedule.”