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Confusion surrounds local control of Baltimore Police Department

Baltimore police
Posted at 4:48 PM, Nov 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-29 17:12:44-05

BALTIMORE — Despite city voter's resounding approval of a charter amendment giving the city control of BPD, the council is in a gray area when it comes to total control.

"Technically the state has given the police department to the city, it is a city agency, but the city council does not technically have the ability to write laws because of a component in our city charter that does not allow us to do that," said District 4 Councilor Mark Conway.

The state took over BPD in 1860.

Various attempts have been made to return control to Baltimore but it took a ballot question in 2022 to give it back to the city.

A few lines in the city's charter make it so the council and the mayor don't have the authority to limit the powers of the police commissioner.

An issue for the group now tasked with setting the policies of the department headed by the commissioner.

"There have been laws in the past for which we have had to cut the police department out because we did not have the ability to write laws to govern the duties of the police department," said Conway.

The issue with this part of the charter, only the state can get rid of it.

Before they do that, the city has to amend its laws to be ready to take full control of the the department.

There will even be another vote from Baltimore citizens to put the rules governing the department in the charter.

Council President Nick Mosby says it's about giving the taxpayers control of their department.

"Ultimately, they should be responsible for the control of the police department. Not a delegate in Allegheny County or Wicomico County or throughout the state of Maryland," Mosby said.

So, what does all this mean for the people of Baltimore?

When the city council is behind a change for the department, it won't have to lobby people in Annapolis to get it done.

"Now, things like body cameras and all of those things we tried to do before that were illegal for the council to do. Think about that, it was illegal when we passed a bill in the city council for the city council to require its own police department  to wear body cameras, those kind of things are changed now," said Mayor Brandon Scott, who was a major supporter of local control.

The council hopes to have the bills passed sometime in January so lawmakers in Annapolis can repeal the section of the city's charter that limits the council's power and the charter amendment can make it on the 2024 ballot.