See below for JUFJ testimony on the proposed Police Accountability Board bill in Baltimore County. Andy Miller, chair of JUFJ’s Social Justice in the Synagogues Roundtable and member of the Baltimore Leadership Council, wrote this testimony.
Good evening members of the Council. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this very important bill.
My name is Andrew Miller and I am a long-time resident and voter in Baltimore County. My wife and I live in the Second District. I am speaking tonight on behalf of Jews United for Justice, which organizes more than 800 people in Baltimore County to support local social, racial, and economic justice issues.
My Jewish values are commanded by the text from chapter 16 of the book of Deuteronomy that begins “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” That is why I am here to testify. We have yet to achieve justice for all in this county.
The matter of police accountability was last considered by the Council following some very lengthy and contentious hearings in the Fall of 2020, and among those testifying all but 3 out of more than 30 were speaking to request a bill that would require real police accountability.. I heard some searing testimony about police abuse– ranging from harassment and intimidation to police shootings that led to deaths of county residents.ost of these personal stories were told by people of color. I know that my family and the people who live in my mostly-white neighborhood have little to fear from the police, and that many people from communities of color have experienced harassment and worse and believe they have everything to fear. They need to be heard.
Last year the Maryland legislature passed a reform bill that among other things requires every county in Maryland to appoint a Police Accountability Board. Baltimore County has a proposal on the table that meets only the bare minimum requirements and does not ensure true accountability. Is that what we really want? Or do we want to ensure that those who are harmed will receive justice? The power is in your hands to help us approach that goal.
On April 14, an incident occurred where a group of police officers in unmarked vehicles converged on a parking lot in Dundalk to arrest a suspect in a murder case. As reported by Fox 45 News, a 19-year-old man in a car, parked next to that of the man they were trying to arrest, attempted to leave and tried to back up his car, hitting an unmarked vehicle that had suddenly appeared behind him. He then tried to move forward and an officer on foot shot him through the windshield. This young man had nothing to do with the case. His family says he has no record of encounters with the police. The police say four officers shot at him, and we know that at least one shot hit him in the head. They said he tried to ram a patrol car and that charges were pending. He is now at Shock Trauma fighting for his life. The officers did not have body cameras and Fox News reports that surveillance video casts doubt on the police version of events. The State’s Attorney has declined to comment and 12 days after the event we still have had no public release of information about what really happened. The person who was arrested was released because of exculpatory evidence. The young man? Collateral damage from an arrest that resulted in the person being released a week later. Hopefully he will survive and recover from his injuries, but chances are that the citizens of Baltimore County will be paying the cost of another multimillion-dollar lawsuit stemming from this case. This story is emblematic of why many residents of Baltimore County do not trust the current system to ensure that justice will be done. It demonstrates yet again why we need a strong Police Accountability Board with independent investigatory authority. The Baltimore County Coalition for Police Reform is asking for the following measures to be included in the bill creating this board:
- Membership must reflect the groups who have the most encounters with law enforcement. Retired law enforcement and family members are already well-represented elsewhere in the system and should not be able to serve on a civilian review board.
- The Board needs independent investigatory authority. We have seen what happens time and again when that authority is not independent. Police cannot be in charge of policing themselves. There is too much incentive for members of the group to protect their own from being held accountable even when there is serious misconduct.
- Assure that the budget is sufficient to include stipends for board members and staff
- The board should not be represented by the county attorney. This is a conflict of interest. There needs to be funding for independent counsel. Preventing more multimillion-dollar lawsuits will more than pay for itself.
Thank you for your time. I urge you to pass a bill that ensures real accountability by including all of these measures.