Baltimore may get control over its police department for the first time in 160 years.

Baltimore may get control over its police department for the first time in 160 years.

While Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland, it’s the only jurisdiction in the state that doesn’t regulate its own police department. But with new bills in the Maryland legislature, that could soon change.

The Maryland General Assembly has a slew of bills focused on police reform this session. Two of them aim to reinstate Baltimore’s control of its police department. Under an omnibus bill from Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore City), the police force would return to the city’s control by October 2021. Similar legislation from Del. Melissa R. Wells (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) would pass control of the department back to Baltimore by 2025.

We discuss how Baltimore first lost control of its police department, and what local control would look like.

Produced by Richard Cunningham


  • Caylin Young Public Policy Director, ACLU of Maryland; @ACLU_MD
  • Bryn Stole Maryland politics reporter, The Baltimore Sun; @brynstole


  • 12:00:15

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll talk with Marty Baron the outgoing Executive Editor of The Washington Post. But first, Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland, but it's the only jurisdiction in the state without control of its police department. For the last 160 years, the state has controlled the Baltimore Police Department. But as Maryland's legislature focuses on police reform for this session, two bills aim to return local control of the department to Baltimore. But how did the city lose control of its police? And what would local control even look like? Joining me to discuss this now is Bryn Stole, a Maryland Politics Reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Bryn, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:02

    BRYN STOLEOh, thank you so much for having me.

  • 12:01:04

    NNAMDIBefore we get to that conversation, Bryn, you just tweeted about positive cold cases of COVID in the legislature. What's going on?

  • 12:01:13

    STOLESo at the Maryland General Assembly campus, they have been doing rapid testing at least a couple of times a week on the Senate side. And to open the floor session, it started about an hour ago, Senate President Bill Ferguson announced that there were several positive rapid tests. So they did not say how many members may have had a rapid test result that was positive. But they've put several people into isolation and are trying to do -- are connecting PCR tests now, the more reliable coronavirus test to try to see if those are in fact infections. And then I guess they'll adjust from there.

  • 12:01:55

    NNAMDIWhen you say adjust, is that likely to affect the way they do business?

  • 12:01:59

    STOLEYeah. So they are required to do under Maryland's constitution to do all the voting in person. But they have altered a lot of the other things that are going around this legislative session to try to adjust for the pandemic. And presumably if several members were to be infected with coronavirus and potentially have exposed other members that would disrupt all sorts of plans for in-person voting sessions as they went into isolation and quarantine in responding to that.

  • 12:02:30

    NNAMDIAnd we'll have to see what happens. Let's talk about police reform. House Speaker Adrienne Jones is proposing major police reform legislation. What would her bill do?

  • 12:02:40

    STOLEA lot of things. And there's a number of the proposals that are in her bill, which also have similar bills to do similar things on the Senate side. The big things are she would repeal the law enforcements officer's bill of rights in Maryland, which is a 1974 law, which gives a number of job protections that lays out the disciplinary procedure for police officers statewide in Maryland. She would create a statewide standard for when and how police officers can use force and would create criminal penalties potentially for violating those policies. She would reform the state's public records law to give at least some limited access to records from police disciplinary procedures, and a number of other things. I mean, it's a pretty sweeping package.

  • 12:03:37

    STOLEMost police agencies in the State of Maryland, police officers now wear body cameras, but not all. So there's a number of smaller departments that haven't adopted those yet. That would become a mandate sometime in the near future for those departments to get onboard with body cameras.

  • 12:03:54

    NNAMDIWell, she joined us last week on the show we did in Your Virtual Community and gave us a laundry list of some of those measures. But joining us now is Caylin Young, the Public Policy Director at the ACLU of Maryland. Caylin, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:04:08

    CAYLIN YOUNGOh, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

  • 12:04:10

    NNAMDICaylin, the ACLU of Maryland has said that it is quoting here, "regrettably cannot support this bill as written." What do you think is missing from the House Speaker's legislation?

  • 12:04:21

    YOUNGWell, the ACLU is part of a coalition called the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability. It's a coalition of over 90 groups across the State of Maryland calling on the legislature to support strong police reform and accountability measures, but there are five specific demands that we are really focusing much of our evaluation of legislation on. And it's particularly those are a full repeal of the law enforcement officer's bill of rights, reforming the Maryland Public Information Act to allow for disclosure of all complaints of police misconduct, establishing a statewide use of force policy that will prevent officers from using force unless it's necessary and proportionate to the threat, removing police officers from our children's schools. And of course as we're talking about today, returning control of the Baltimore Police Department to its residents.

  • 12:05:11

    YOUNGThe Speaker's bill in our opinion as currently written simply doesn't go far enough on these certain particular measures. In particular, as we look at MPIA and as we look at the repeal of law enforcement officers bill of rights and what they have written right now to replace it, it leaves a lot to be wanting. But we're having conversations now to see if we can strengthen that language and potentially even come onboard. But we've got a long way to go.

  • 12:05:35

    NNAMDIMPIA being the Maryland Public Information Act, right?

  • 12:05:38

    YOUNGThat's right.

  • 12:05:39

    NNAMDIBryn Stole, Republicans in the legislature aren't onboard with this bill either. What are some of their concerns and objections?

  • 12:05:47

    STOLEWell, I guess, the big one is that they would argue as do representatives for a lot of the police unions that some of the proposals on the table would start treating police officers differently than other public employees. For example, the personal records, records of discipline and complaints against other public state employees aren't available under the Public Records Act. And they argue that it's unfair to release complaints against police officers. That making it crime to violate these enforced policy goes too far and that the job protections that exist under the law enforcement officer's bill of rights -- they would argue, the police unions have very strongly argued that those are needed to protect them from a potentially tyrannical chief that these are good job protections for rank and file workers facing potential disciplines to guarantee their due process.

  • 12:06:48

    STOLENow, of course, folks in the other side would argue that there's been a loss of public trust in police departments and that greater transparency, because of the authority that we put in police is warranted. That police officers are sort of a special category of worker for the state, because of the power that they have and so they deserve greater scrutiny.

  • 12:07:11

    NNAMDIDo you believe that Speaker Jones has the votes to pass this reform package, Bryn?

  • 12:07:16

    STOLEOh, yes. She's quite confident that she does. And in her backing I think will mean a lot. I think that the two big questions are one, whether her and the Senate will strike a deal on passing the exact same legislation. I think it sounds like there's votes in both chambers to pass something. Now whether everyone can get onboard with the same bill is a question we don't quite have an answer to yet. And the other big one is where will Governor Larry Hogan fall in all of this? I have asked his staff, but I haven't heard him address these issues directly, and of course, if he pulls out a veto, which it's speculative at this point. But if he does then they'll have to muster the votes to override that and that's a kind of a wider margin that you have to hit.

  • 12:08:04

    NNAMDICaylin Young, why doesn't Baltimore have control over its police department?

  • 12:08:10

    YOUNGBack in the Civil War, the law was changed to such that during the Civil War the city was controlled by a political party that was filled with southern sympathizers. And as you know, Maryland, although it is a Southern state stayed with the Union. Baltimore was placed under Marshall Law as a result of some of the actions of that party including rioting against Union troops that were transported from the North through Baltimore to the South.

  • 12:08:40

    YOUNGAnd so as a consequence of that federal government took control. And then they ended up giving local control -- or rather control of the police force to the state after the Civil War. To this day even as a relic of that movement, the cannons on Federal Hill face the city as opposed to the state, because of that -- excuse as opposed to facing the sea as a consequence of that Marshall Law to this day. And so as a result of Civil War politics, the control has been on a state level.

  • 12:09:12

    YOUNGIt hasn't changed. A few changes have occurred specifically changing how many commissioners there were. There used to be three. It went down to one. All appointed and hired and fired by the governor. Back in '66, it became one commissioner. And in 2009, that commissioner came under the authority of the Mayor of Baltimore. But local control now, this bill, is specifically about allowing for the City Council to be able to have authority to pass ordinance as it pertains to the police department, which is a power that is currently still retained with the General Assembly.

  • 12:09:44

    NNAMDII noticed you didn't mention the name of the party that controlled Baltimore during the Civil War. Was there a particular reason for that?

  • 12:09:51

    YOUNGNo. I just omitted it because it's called the Know Nothing Party. They're not in power anymore.

  • 12:09:55

    NNAMDIYes. That's true. Caylin, Speaker Jones and other lawmakers want to return control of Baltimore's Police Department to the city. How do they propose this happens?

  • 12:10:07

    YOUNGWell, under the current bill as written, it just changes a portion of the law -- of the public local law to change Baltimore's Police Department from an agency and instrumentality of the state to an agency and instrumentality of the city. But what's going to end up happening, though, I think is that that's going to actually be amended out. So the Speaker Jones's bill actually won't be carrying the local control change moving forward.

  • 12:10:33

    YOUNGAnd that's a deal that was struck with the Mayor of Baltimore, Brandon Scott, who has coordinated everybody behind Senate Bill 786 and House Bill 1027. The Senate bill carried by Senator McCray. The House bill carried by Delegate Wells. In that approach what we're going to do is have an advisory board that's going to look at various changes and implications as a result of the change to local control. Issue a report and then what we'll end up having is a ballot measure before the voters of Baltimore in the 2022 election that would fully restore and finally restore local control.

  • 12:11:11

    YOUNGAnd one of the good things about doing it that way -- one of the issues with local control is that we have, you know, out of city folk, people from across the state who pass laws and ordinances on the police department of the people of Baltimore, but doing it this way allows for self-determination of the residents of Baltimore as we residents are able to resecure that control.

  • 12:11:33

    NNAMDIAnd you say Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott is crucial to this process, why?

  • 12:11:38

    YOUNGWell, it's something that he ran on. And, you know, I think that he's been very clear that it's a high priority of his administration. And additionally, with the policing work group that was led by Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary during the fall, this was one of the main recommendations that came out of that. So there was significant alignment with regard to his administration's priorities, the policing work group's priorities and of course also the priorities of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability also seeking the same change.

  • 12:12:10

    NNAMDIIt's my understanding that he's been talking about this since he was first elected to the Baltimore City Council back in 2011; is that correct?

  • 12:12:17

    YOUNGYes, sir. That's right.

  • 12:12:18

    NNAMDIOkay. Got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:42

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about a number of police reform measures before the Maryland General Assembly, and one in particular that would return control of the Baltimore City Police Department to Baltimore. We're talking with Caylin Young, Public Policy Director at the ACLU of Maryland. And Bryn Stole, a Maryland Politics Reporter for The Baltimore Sun. Bryn Stole, Delegate Melissa Wells and Senator Cory McCray are cosponsoring legislation to return city control to Baltimore by 2025. Why is their target date 2025?

  • 12:13:15

    STOLEWell, part of the question is how quickly you can get this -- change the city charter in front of Baltimore City voters and get them to approve it. There's some discussion of amending that and allowing for, if you can get a report together, that would say what the change to the charter should look like together in time within the 2022 ballot that maybe the change should take effect by 2023 January 1st. But if that's not possible that's too quick of a timeline to sort out all those issues then the 2024 election would be in their view the most logical time to take that to the voters.

  • 12:13:59

    NNAMDICaylin Young, the ACLU of Maryland is looking at that 2023 date that Bryn Stole mentioned. Why 2023?

  • 12:14:08

    YOUNGWell, because when we look at the changes that are occurring in Baltimore City in particular some of the charter amendments that recently went into effect, we wanted it to be, you know, right away. But we are being cognoscente of some of those other changes that are coming into effect, allowing that to occur, allowing to Council to adjust. But then in the following year building on that momentum, which is empowering the City Council to have more authority to do things that it needs to do to help run the city. We're going to build on that with local control in the very next year.

  • 12:14:40

    YOUNGIt's our view that that report that Mr. Stole just mentioned can be done fairly quickly. Many of the things that that report would have to speak on have already been discussed and some of those issues are already actually ironed out in many ways. And then additionally, the frank truth of it, a little bit inside baseball is that the 2025 deadline actually -- or transfer of control in the bill was actually a typo that occurred as a result of the last -- the timeline by which the bill was drafted and submitted. It just didn't allow for the amendment -- or excuse me the change to be corrected. And so this is actually the original intent of everyone involved including the mayor and the coalition as well.

  • 12:15:25

    NNAMDIBryn Stole, without local control, how has Baltimore been running its police department? What challenges does state control create for the city?

  • 12:15:35

    STOLEYeah. So for quite a while now it's sort of been in a little bit of a hybrid oversight I suppose would be the way to put it. It's not like the Governor of Maryland is, you know, taking day to day authority over the department. The city has budget authority. They set the budget for the department. They pay for the department. So the state is not handling the budget every year. And the mayor is the one who hires and fires the police commissioner. But they do not have -- the Council does not have authority to adjust policies or pass ordinances that would change the way that the department operates.

  • 12:16:14

    STOLESo they have to -- anything like that like for example, several years ago there was an attempt to pass an ordinance that would have required body cameras for Baltimore City police officers. That had to instead it could not be passed by the City Council, because they do not have that authority with the current arrangement.

  • 12:16:30

    STOLESo you have to do one of two things when you want to attempt to change that at the local level. You either sort of jawbone the commissioner and get the commissioner -- the mayor can call the commissioner and say, I'd like you to do this. And get the commissioner to handle that internally in the department. Or you can go to the state legislature, which meets once a year for 90 days and try to get them to pass a local bill that would affect the way the Baltimore City Police Department operates.

  • 12:16:58

    NNAMDICaylin Young, among people, who live in Baltimore is there popular consensus about the prospect of city control of the police department? Caylin Young, what are you hearing?

  • 12:17:10

    YOUNGYeah. I think that it's really uniform across the city that people think this is good idea and it's necessary. Indeed as a consequence of being the only jurisdiction in the state and the only city of its size in the country that doesn't have local control of its own police department, Baltimore understands. And Baltimore residents understand how they're in a unique position. This is compounded with the recent history -- not just recent history, but our long going rather -- long standing history of misconduct in our police department.

  • 12:17:40

    YOUNGThis is a measure that will allow for our City Council to be able to, you know, have teeth when it comes to holding the department accountable, implementing the changes of the consent decree and moving our department from its checkered past to a more promising future that can be of better service to the residents.

  • 12:17:58

    NNAMDIBryn Stole, are there any legislators against this move? What are some of the arguments you're hearing against Baltimore City control of its police department?

  • 12:18:08

    STOLEYeah, I would say there's two really big concerns that have been raised, which also have derailed previous efforts in past years to do exactly this. One of those is that because the Baltimore Police Department is a state agency it has sovereign immunity in federal court. And so it can't be sued directly. And there has been concerns raised that if the department is returned to local control and loses that sovereign immunity the city might then end up being on the hook for lawsuits in federal court where there are not caps on damages. And that could end up hurting the city budget.

  • 12:18:50

    STOLEThe current City Solicitor Jim Shea argues that that is really a non-issue, because there's sort of a work around to that right now where officers can be sued individually in federal court. And then the agreement with the city is the city will pay those judgements. So that is sort of it depends on who you ask the question over whether or not that would really have a major impact on the legal liability that would face the city. I would say that's probably the biggest concern.

  • 12:19:19

    STOLEThere's also a concern raised by some people in the police department and some other politicians in Maryland that the City Council might get, I supposed the way they would think of it is overactive in their meddling in the affairs of the department. That they might for good or for ill really manage the department, and what some -- what the advocates for this see as, you know, really Democratic local control of the department could be also seen as unnecessary meddling in the internal operations of the police department.

  • 12:19:51

    NNAMDIHow do you feel about that argument, Caylin Young?

  • 12:19:53

    YOUNGWell, as I look at the City Council and the work that it's being doing, you know, my previous role before coming to the ACLU was actually working with then Council President Scott in his office as legislative director. And part of that role was working with the City Council's public safety committee to provide monthly budgetary and crime stat oversight meetings where we were able to ask the police department specific questions about, you know, not just how they were helping with the crime fight and trying to reduce crime in the city. But also what were they doing internally with regard to operations.

  • 12:20:26

    YOUNGIn particular, I'm thinking about conversations where there was an overtime fraud scandal happening in the police department. And it was the City Council that was asking the tough questions about, why isn't there better policies? Why aren't we able to, you know, have certain approval processes? Why is it all still on paper and not digitized? Etcetera. The City Council was asking those tough questions. It wasn't the state legislature.

  • 12:20:47


  • 12:20:48

    YOUNGThe difficulty, though, is that the City Council didn't have any power to do anything about it. And so it was public pressure with the mayor and the commissioner that was able to bring about that change. But the City Council is already providing the necessary oversight not too much, but the appropriate oversight. And, again, every other jurisdiction already does this. So the argument that they might be micromanaging maybe the Baltimore Police Department needs a little micromanaging on a certain level. But at the end of the day they're being undermanaged with oversight as it pertains to the General Assembly.

  • 12:21:17

    NNAMDIGood news. We have a caller from Baltimore. Justin is in Baltimore, Maryland. Justin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:21:23

    JUSTINHi. Thank you, Mr. Nnamdi. Usually, I listen to WNPR right now. But I happen to be channel surfing. And it's a great topic. And I just wanted to share that I had no idea that the separation of the city and its power over the police went back to the Civil War. You know, the justification to that I think is no longer existent. It's a very liberal progressive city. So I think if that's the justification for keeping control, it should go back to the people. I would be in favor of that. I think all my neighbors would be. And I think that also gives the politicians like Brandon Scott whose doing a great job a little more political will to take a tough stance on some of these issues. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 12:22:06

    NNAMDIJustin, thank you for calling. By being the only caller from Maryland Justin took the advantage of speaking on behalf of his neighbors. So thank you for doing that. I'm afraid we're just about out of time. Caylin Young, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:18

    YOUNGOh, pleasure is mine. Thank you for having me.

  • 12:22:20

    NNAMDIBryn Stole, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:22

    STOLEAbsolutely, any time. Thank you so much.

  • 12:22:24

    NNAMDIShort break. When we come back, we'll talk with Marty Baron, the outgoing Executive Editor of The Washington Post. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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