Political payback leads to the demise of police reform bills

As state legislators were putting the icing on the cake of yet another successful 90-day legislative session, tensions were brewing amidst the political leadership that governs Baltimore City’s 45th legislative district.

The issue at hand – at least externally – was the passage of legislation, or lack thereof, that dealt with how the city best serves its citizens as it relates to control of their police department and the hiring practices adopted moving forward. The first bill, HB278, introduced by Delegate Talmadge Branch (D-45), sought to give control over the city’s police department to the Mayor and City Council, as opposed to being controlled by the state as it now stands.

Branch’s bill had the support of the city’s advocacy groups, as well as the Mayor and almost the entire City Council. However, after being passed by an overwhelming 137-0 vote in the House, the legislation met its demise in the state senate, when Branch’s district state senator, Cory McCray, was unsatisfied with the answers he sought regarding the city’s fiscal liability. McCray reached out to the city solicitor, Andre Davis, seeking a definitive answer on the estimated amount this would cost the city per year due to the liability Baltimore would now assume via the potential exposure of the city being sued for police misconduct.

Apparently, Davis couldn’t answer McCray’s questions, stating that the impact would be minimal at best; but his financial definition of minimal was never articulated. Given those unanswered questions, the city’s senate delegation took heed to their colleague’s concerns, causing the bill to die in the Senate. This apparently infuriated Delegate Branch, as well as the city’s advocacy community, who were pushing for this bill to move through favorably.

So when McCray’s bill, SB43 – which would require members of the city police department’s top brass to reside within the city limits – came before the members of the House of Delegates, Delegate Branch saw fit to ensure that his Senator’s bill was ‘special ordered’ until next years session. When the bill came to the House floor, which would have aligned state law with the city’s change in its code last year thanks to Councilwoman Shannon Sneed’s bill; Delegate Branch stood to be heard and asked that his colleagues defer action on this bill until 2020.

And while those of us who understand the internal political dynamic of this district realize that this clash was bound to happen at some point, due to McCray’s defeat of Senator Nathaniel McFadden last year – a Branch ally and friend – and his dismantling of their ruling political dynasty known as the Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO); other less politically astute citizens may not, and I doubt they will find comfort in the political gamesmanship that led to the dismantling of two effective pieces of legislation.

These actions may very well lead to further treachery over the next few years for these two East Baltimore politicians, but what it most certainly will not do is serve the interests of the citizens they are elected to represent. For as the saying goes, “When elephants do battle, it’s the grass that suffers.”

However, something tells me that these two distinguished political leaders will find common ground in the coming months, as they look towards 2020 and beyond in their quest to reform police policies that have negatively impacted our city for far too long.

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