Frederick County Council Takes Testimony On Proposed Police Accountability Board Ordinance

Many who spoke wanted to see expanded  membership.

Frederick, Md. (KM) – Testimony was taken Tuesday night on a bill to establish a police accountability board in Frederick County. The County Council heard from many people who wanted to see changes in membership.

The legislation sets up a nine-member panel with two slots for the City of Frederick, and one each for the City of Brunswick and the Town of Thurmont. All three jurisdictions have their own police departments. There would also be four liaison slots for the four law enforcement agencies in Frederick County. William “Bill” Reed says the board should include other community members. “The board needs to include people with the knowledge and understanding of populations that have most likely experienced negative interactions with the police,”: he said. “For example, the mentally ill, the homeless, the poor, low income populations, the disabled, the LGBTQ-plus population and people of color.”

Richard “Kap” Kapowitz of Frederick said it should also include undocumented immigrants. “Immigrant communities have interactions and very, very troubling interactions with some of the police agencies, specifically the Sheriff’s Department,”: he said. “And we need to have a representative from the undocumented who can talk about some of the problems.”

The County’s proposed ordinance prohibits active police officers from being members of the police accountability board. John Distall, a candidate the County Council from District 1, says retired cops should sit on the board. “We must not allow convicted felons. We must allow retired law enforcement,” he said.

But Kapowitz said  former police officers should be on the board. “There is relationships you build at work. And if it is someone you had a relationship and you’re now a retired police officer, and that person comes before the board, there could be bias there or a perception of a bias,” he said.

State law requires the county to set up a police accountability board. That legislation was passed in 2021 following confrontations between police and other citizens around the country in 2020, many resulting from the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

Prior to the hearing, County Attorney Bryon Black told the Council there may be some changes coming down from the General Assembly regarding the law requiring a  police accountability board. He said  there is an amendment to last year’s law  requiring  all investigations, both internal and external, be turned over to the administrative charging committee. The changes also delay the implementation of the police accountability board until October 1st,2022. But it  must be in place by July 1st, 2022. Black says this amendment to last year’s bill is pending in the General Assembly

No vote was taken on the proposed ordinance Tuesday night. Council President MC Keegan-Ayer says she would like the Council to decide by May 1st, 2022.

ARPA Funds

On another topic, the Council agreed to accept $25.2-million dollars in federal funding into its coffers. The money is the second installment of American Rescue Plan Act for the county.

Chief Financial Officer Lori Depies said the funds are expected to come to the county in May, but it was important for the Council to take action now. “There was an initiative in Congress to claw back unused funds not just from the CARE Act but potentially; from the American Rescue Plan of unused dollars to pay for more COVID therapeutics, testing and some of those other items. And we still feel at risk that this claw back could happen,” she said.

But the Council’s decision ensures that Frederick County will receive that funding to be used for local projects. “That gives us the ability then to appropriate to projects that we’ve committed and report that truthfully and honestly to the{US} Treasury {Department} that we’ve committed these dollars and there won’t an attempt to claw back those funds from us,” Depies says.

Some of that money will be used to pay for a memorial to the more than 500 Frederick County residents who have died from COVID-19. The monument is planned for Utica Park.

The American Rescue Plan Act was passed by Congress last year to provide financial assistance to local governments to help them recover from the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Kevin McManus