SNOW HILL – Members of the new Worcester County Police Accountability Board stressed their commitment to fairness at their inaugural meeting last week.
Last Thursday, the board—mandated by Maryland’s Police Accountability Act—held its first meeting at the Worcester County Government Center. The group, made up primarily of retired law enforcement officers, met with leaders of local law enforcement agencies and talked about the board’s duties.
“Thank you for taking on this challenging task,” Belin Police Chief Arnold Downing said.
The Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, which replaced the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights as the system for police discipline, went into effect July 1. As a result, Worcester County must have a police accountability board, a charging committee and a trial board.
The seven-member accountability board—appointed by the county commissioners, met for the first time Sept. 15. Roscoe Leslie, county attorney, said the accountability board would be at the top of a three-tier system. The board will help appoint members to the charging committee, which will review complaints and investigations of police misconduct when they occur.
“Your board doesn’t get into the nuts and bolts of complaints,” Leslie said. “That’s for the charging committee.”
The other piece of the new system, the trial board, will convene if the officer being disciplined doesn’t agree with the discipline recommended by the charging committee.
Members Quincy Shockley, Greg Tate, John Simms, Mary Burgess, Carol Frazier, Joe Theobald and Jerrod Johnson introduced themselves and heard from the heads of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, Berlin Police Department, Snow Hill Police Department, Ocean City Police Department and Pocomoke City Police Department.
“This is a new frontier for us,” Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro told the board.
Sheriff Matt Crisafulli praised the fact that Worcester County appeared to have a well-balanced board with open minds.
“This is a critical component of moving our county forward,” he said.
Several chiefs pointed out that the new system was a big change for law enforcement but said historically, citizen boards were more lenient in their discipline than police agencies were. Nevertheless, Downing said the new system was on the minds of officers.
“We’re going to have officers freezing up and not doing something because they’re scared of doing the wrong thing,” he said.
He said training was the key to overcoming that.
“I think it’s a task we’re up to,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Snow Hill Chief Andy McGee said he too was worried officers wouldn’t be as proactive as they had in the past with the new accountability procedures.
“It’s going to be a struggle,” he said.
Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser said local agencies communicated and worked well together, things that would aid in the transition to the new system. She also addressed the importance of training.
“The number one thing is give them the staffing they need, give them the funding they need, and give them the training they need and then wind them up and let them go,” she said.
The accountability board is set to meet quarterly. Members assured the law enforcement officials present they were committed to ensuring everyone was treated fairly.
“I think that you collectively, as those in charge, should feel very comfortable after today,” Theobald said. “I know one thing, this is the first time we’ve met our peers and we’ve all stressed the same thing—everything will be treated fairly. Everything will be looked at through a clear lens. I think that message should be brought back to your people. We take this seriously. It will be done correctly.”
“I think these meetings are going to help,” he said.