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Baltimore County council discusses police reform bill in tense council meeting

Posted at 11:39 PM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 07:33:20-04

BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — A tense exchange between Baltimore County councilman Julian Jones and County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt highlighted a contentious council meeting as officials discussed a police reform bill on Tuesday.

Councilman Jones' police reform bill includes a series of reforms such as banning chokeholds, requiring officers to report excessive use of force, and additional de-escalation training.

Jones said the bill is "not an anti-police bill", but one that would protect officers and the citizens they serve.

In the meeting that went for about six hours, Councilman Jones claimed Chief Hyatt, who expressed concerns about the bill, has been unwilling to work with the council on reform. He also accused the chief of not holding her department accountable, which is something she denied.

Chief Hyatt said she's embraced oversight and accountability since she became Chief last year. She said strengthening trust with the community has been a priority, adding for the past few months the department has been implementing 21st century law enforcement practices, including a national training program to address implicit bias.

Last month, County Executive Olszewski and Chief Hyatt announced a number of reforms to address police accountability and transparency that included reporting excessive use of force, which is apart of Jones' bill, and creating a database on police complaints.

RELATED: Baltimore County announces new steps aimed at reforming police department

Chief Hyatt admits the department is not perfect, but said she's proud of the work her officers have been doing, especially during unrest in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minnesota. She said she supports the spirit of the bill, but added she's concerned that, as written, it could put police officers in danger when making split-second decisions.

Some other concerns shared during the meeting included the definition of use of force and making chokeholds illegal. Opponents of the bill argue it should be a matter of policy and not law.

The bill will likely have amendments, but the county council is expected to vote on the bill next week.