The Charles County commissioners at their July 21 meeting highlighted criminal justice reform and voted to create a new council to coordinate responses of local agencies to criminal justice issues.
Two subcategories under the umbrella of criminal justice reform include a civilian review board for the county, which has been in talks for decades, and a criminal justice coordinating council, which was given “conditional approval” by the commissioners last week.
The coordinating council would consist of 20 “full members” with the right to vote. Full members of the council would include the Charles County commissioner president, the local state’s attorney and the county sheriff.
Commissioner President Reuben B. Collins II (D) told Southern Maryland News the likelihood of a civilian review board also coming to fruition is “a pretty strong possibility.”
“The murder of George Floyd created a totally different paradigm that was not in existence even four months ago,” Collins said. “There are so many open questions ... Even on a more legal level, the ability of the county to enforce a body” is not easy.
Collins said in an interview the county can implement such a program, however it “cannot tell the sheriff” to participate and enforce officers to follow a review board’s guidelines.
As an advocate for reformation of the criminal justice system for two decades, he said he submitted a proposal for a civilian review board as a young attorney.
“Before I was a public officer, I was the attorney for the Charles County chapter of the NAACP,” Collins said. “During my time acting as their attorney, I submitted a proposal to create a citizens review board.”
Collins explained one of the biggest impediments during the past twenty years in implementing a review board has been the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
“Because of the officers’ bill of rights, it created challenges for the ability of the Charles County commissioners to propose and employ a CRB.”
Examples of civilian review boards are prevalent throughout the nation, providing guidelines for Charles County. Therefore, implementing the program could happen naturally and efficiently.
“Each one, depending on where you are, operates differently,” Collins said. “I think one of the key discussion points is ensuring that all of those that are members, or a part of this board, be fully trained in understanding the law and how we would make decisions if there were an incident of possible officer misconduct.”
Although talks of a civilian review board in the county are escalating between citizens and political leaders, a clear discussion on the guidelines and policies the board would operate under has not been broached.
“That is why this is a continuing process,” Collins said. “From my perspective, it is extremely important for this process to be as transparent as possible. I want the citizens to be full participants. ... That is the only way it will be literally looked at as being reflective of the interest of our population.”
Charles County State’s Attorney Tony Covington (D) told Southern Maryland News the mission of a criminal justice coordinating council is to bring all the decision makers in the county to address local criminal justice issues.
“To me, the way that I see it ... bring them all together,” Covington said. “They can then try to get resources and basically address all the issues regarding criminal justice in Charles County.”
Covington said a criminal justice council would collaboratively formulate decisions and agree on solutions of criminal justice issues.
“It is supposed to be a collaborative effort, through all of these different organizations, with all the decision makers in the room to say, ‘Hey yeah, this looks like a good idea. Let’s try to push for that,’” Covington said.
The 20 criminal justice coordinating council members, Covington said, are all of equal importance. Additionally, there are five subcommittees. The duties of the subcommittees will be to facilitate the council’s activities and address specific areas.
Covington said the resolution for the council was “approved conditionally” by the commissioners on Tuesday, July 21. “The next meeting that we are going to have — where everything is full without any conditions — is early August. ... That should finally and fully bring it into being,” he said.
He added people have already been doing work of the coordinating council. “We had a meeting last week on pretrial release services [and] programs for victims. ... There will be some issues as far as funding or staffing. ... Right now, we don’t have an official funding sources.”
Furthermore, he said the funding will be “very minimal,” but there will need to be administrative people to coordinate. “Aside from that, it is all the different organizations putting their minds together, doing their research and absorbing the workload to make it happen.”
As an advocate, Covington said his objective was to get the “conversation started,” on the topic. “I am all for a civilian review board. ... One, whether or not everybody else wants it, two, how it is going to be comprised and all that. That all needs to be done.”
Covington said that for reform to happen, citizens must take charge. “It has to be a citizen lead initiative. The citizens are the ones that are going to have to carry the ball to the end zone.”