Baltimore County News
School construction and transportation funding top the list
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz unveiled a wide-ranging agenda for the upcoming 2017 General Assembly session that begins this Wednesday. “Funding of school construction and transportation projects remain an important priority for the county,” said Kamenetz. “In addition, I look forward to working with legislators on several statewide issues such as sexual assault, fracking, and bail reform that have implications for Baltimore County but also the rest of the state.”
Plan includes acceleration of body camera implementation, independent review of sexual assault procedures, and task force to study cultural-competency training, de-escalation policies
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz this morning announced a Police Action Plan that will address policies and practices of the Baltimore County Police Department:
Acceleration of the County’s body camera program
The County’s implementation of police body cameras began this past July. Currently 128 officers are wearing cameras in each of our precincts, with the original goal of full implementation by December 2018. Effective immediately, the County will increase overtime expense to triple the rate of training, so that by September 2017, 1,435 police officers will be equipped with body cameras in Baltimore County.
Independent review of the police department’s Sexual Assault policies and procedures
Baltimore County has requested the Maryland Coalition against Sexual Assault (MCASA) and Judge Barbara Howe to conduct an independent review of the County’s response to sexual assault allegations and make recommendations. As part of their analysis, they will review three years of sexual assault investigations that did not lead to prosecution.
“MCASA looks forward to working with Baltimore County to review existing cases as well as policies and practices in the area of sexual assault,” said Lisae C. Jordan, Executive Director of the Maryland Coalition against Sexual Assault. “We are particularly interested in working to strengthen the County’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) which is an essential component of effective practices in this area. A strong SART is essential to ensuring that all sexual assault survivors in the County receive an expert, trauma-informed, and respectful response."
“I thank County Executive Kamenetz for the opportunity to review prior cases as well as Baltimore County’s response to sexual assault crimes,” said retired Judge Barbara Howe. “As a judge for thirty-one years, I know how complex these cases can be and how important it is that victims be treated with dignity and respect throughout the entire process.”
Immediate change to sexual assault investigatory policy
As a result of internal reviews by the County Attorney and the State’s Attorney, Police Chief Johnson has implemented an immediate policy change. While officers on the street always confer with specialized detectives in the sexual assault unit while investigating these crimes, effective immediately every individual reporting a 2nd degree sexual assault charge, as well as the suspect, will be personally interviewed by a detective in the sex crime unit.
Task Force to examine cultural-competency training, de-escalation strategies, and responses to citizens with behavioral health issues
The County Executive announced that a task force comprised of Police Chief Jim Johnson, Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch, Baltimore County’s Director of the Department of Health and Human Services and The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center will collaborate to explore the police department’s de-escalation training options, examine officers’ responses to citizens with behavioral health issues, and also review cultural-competency training.
“Baltimore County has already demonstrated its commitment to appropriately responding to people with behavioral health needs, including advancing the pairing of mental health professionals with police officers to help navigate those delicate interactions,” said Suzanne Brown-McBride, deputy director of the CSG Justice Center. “Initiating this comprehensive task force review is further evidence of the county’s dedication to improving its approach, and we look forward to working with Baltimore County over the next year to review its policies and ultimately help enhance how police officers respond to people with behavioral health needs.”
“This is a forward-thinking agency, and we welcome the opportunity to partner with academic experts. Every police department can benefit from fresh perspectives about ways to enhance law enforcement policies and practices. I’m confident this comprehensive review will prove to be very valuable,” stated Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson.
“I am pleased that our County is taking strides to address issues where the paths of public safety and public health meet,” said Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch. “At the core of helping anyone who suffers from substance use or a mental health condition is understanding that these are diseases, and then providing adequate training for those who may encounter persons with them.”
"I have the utmost confidence in the Baltimore County Police Department, but it is always helpful to have someone from outside an organization come in with a fresh set of eyes to take a look at how you do business,” said Baltimore County Council Chair Vicki Almond. ”I look forward to the results of these reviews, and am very pleased to see the County Executive accelerating the implementation of the expanded body camera program.”
Below is the text of the County Executive’s remarks as prepared at today’s press conference:
These have been challenging times for police-community relations across the country.
Anytime a citizen or a police officer dies or is injured during a confrontation, our hearts are saddened. Our first thoughts are with the family dealing with the unthinkable.
However, each event reinforces the need to build trust, emphasizing open communication and transparency. Government must do all that it can to minimize situations of conflict that put our citizens and our officers in harm’s way.
I also recognize that we have an excellent police force here in Baltimore County, nationally accredited with a strong reputation, record-low crime rates, with officers carefully hired, well-trained, and well-led. In fact, we have worked hard over the last five years to increase the diversity of our rank and file, and of our command staff, to ensure that our police force reflects the full quality of the county residents that they are sworn to serve.
We also give our police officers the latest tools and technology to do their job even better.
But a great police department never rests on its laurels. It continually adjusts, and strives to improve, using past experiences as an opportunity to be even better. That is the expectation I have given this department, and this County government.
With that in mind, today I announce the following actions:
1. Baltimore County will accelerate the implementation of its body camera program.
One year ago, I announced implementation of a police body-worn camera program with the strong belief that it would improve the level of communication between citizens and police.
We began to deploy police body cameras this past July, training 10 officers a week. We currently have 128 officers wearing cameras in each of our precincts, with the original goal of full implementation by December 2018.
Effective immediately, we will increase our overtime expense to triple the rate of training, so that by September 2017,
1,435 police officers will be equipped with body cameras in Baltimore County.
I remain confident that body cameras will make our communities and our officers safer, and the faster implementation achieves that goal that much sooner.
2. Baltimore County will undertake an independent review of police response to Sexual Assault crimes, as well as immediately change investigatory policy.
A recent news article examined police handling of sexual assault cases across the nation, and Baltimore County Police Department fully cooperated with the press inquiry. While we strongly disagree with some of the specific conclusions about our department, we recognize the central thesis that our response procedures should be reviewed to identify opportunities for improvement.
We want to make sure that we are doing all that we can to be a national model in terms of our handling of these complex and sensitive cases. I also recognize that an outside set of eyes can offer a fresh perspective.
Accordingly, I have requested that the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA), and retired Judge Barbara Howe, independently review policies and procedures in the area of sexual assault response, and make recommendations for further changes in our procedures.
MCASA serves all of Maryland’s jurisdictions “advocating for compassionate, accessible care for survivors of sexual crimes, and accountability for all offenders.” It has extensive experience advocating law enforcement training to improve responses to sexual violence. Judge Barbara Howe has a distinguished judicial career in Baltimore County, since her first appointment in 1985. In addition to her service as president of the Baltimore County Bar Association and the Maryland State Bar Association, she has served as Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Community College of Baltimore County, chair of the Standing Committee on Professional Discipline for the Maryland Bar Association, and past chair of the Judicial Disabilities Commission in Maryland. She currently serves as a Circuit Court settlement judge.
I am confident that MCASA and Judge Howe can successfully review past police practices and procedures to identify recommendations for significant improvements to police responses to sexual violence.
In addition to this outside review, I have asked Chief Johnson to review the past three years of reported 2nd degree sexual assault cases that were not referred for prosecution. In addition, I asked the County Attorney and the State’s Attorney to also conduct a review of those same files.
As a result of those reviews, we have already identified one policy change that we can, and will, make immediately. While officers on the street always confer with specialized detectives in the sexual assault unit while investigating these crimes, and in most cases, the victims and suspects are interviewed by a detective in this unit, effective immediately, Chief Johnson has ordered that every individual reporting a 2nd degree sexual assault charge, as well as the suspect, will be personally interviewed by a detective in the sex crime unit.
3. Baltimore County will undertake an independent review of police training procedures in areas of behavioral health response, cultural competency training, and de-escalation strategies.
One of the most pressing issues facing police across the nation is how to de-escalate emotional encounters, particularly involving individuals with behavioral health issues. Nearly 8 million Americans suffer from a serious mental illness that disorders their thinking, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. On any given day, half of these patients are not taking medications or receiving other care. About one in 10 police encounters involve someone with mental illness. Recent reports indicate that people with mental illness are 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police.
We see this trend across the nation, and we see it right here in Baltimore County.
In order to improve the way our police respond to these situations, I have asked the non-profit Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center to work with the Baltimore County Police Department and our County Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate policies and procedures in three major areas:
Cultural competency training, De-escalation strategies, and Best practices on how to respond to individuals with behavioral health issues.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that works with policymakers in local, state, and federal government to provide practical, nonpartisan review and advice based upon evidenced-based best practices to increase public safety and strengthen communities.
Presently, our County Department of Health and Human Services has in place a comprehensive effort to help those in need. They manage Crisis Response Teams that work closely with the police department. They have hotlines like 88-REACH, offer community resources and events, coordinate inpatient and outpatient treatment, and secure residential treatment for individuals.
But Dr. Branch and Chief Johnson would be the first to tell you that we can always do better. Over the next six months, they will work with the Justice Center to conduct a comprehensive review of best practices in these areas and recommend changes to current practice that will benefit the public and the police officer on the front lines.
While we are unable to publicly discuss the specific details surrounding the Korryn Gaines case due to pending litigation, it is my expectation that this comprehensive review by the Justice Center will lead to recommendations that may help us avoid these kind of tragic incidents in the future.
The success of a police department is wholly dependent upon the cooperation and the trust of the communities it serves. We hold this principle of utmost importance in Baltimore County. The actions we take today will promote trust, transparency and accountability, making our citizens and our officers safer.