Leaders taking closer look at policing in Maryland

WASHINGTON — Following the April death of Freddie Gray and riots in Baltimore, the Maryland General Assembly has kicked off an in-depth review of policing practices throughout the state.

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Gray was fatally injured while in police custody, and six Baltimore police officers are facing criminal charges in connection with his death.

A joint Senate-House committee has opened hearings into the standards and practices of all 167 police agencies operating in the state of Maryland, examining recruitment, training, certification and other issues.

In its first session, the panel zeroed in on the racial makeup of major police forces in the state, entering into the record statistics that show most Maryland police departments are disproportionately made up of white police officers compared to the racial makeup of the jurisdiction.

For example:

Montgomery County: police department: 79 percent white, general population 48 percent white; department 11 percent black, general population 17 percent black; department 7 percent Hispanic, general population 18 percent Hispanic.

Prince George’s County: police department: 45 percent white, general population 14.8 percent white; department 43 percent black, general population 63 percent black; department 8 percent Hispanic, general population 15.4 percent Hispanic.

“I think it was obvious through the information that we received today that people of color are disproportionately represented across the board in almost every agency from the state to the local jurisdictions, they’re underrepresented,” says Sen. Catherine Pugh, Baltimore, co-chair of the Public Safety and Policing Workgroup.

The House co-chair of the panel, Delegate Curt Anderson of Baltimore, says the hearings are all about expanding trust between people and the police.

“If a police officer comes to a citizen’s door and that person is uncomfortable talking to the police, we have a problem,” Anderson says.

The committee’s next hearing, scheduled for June 23, will focus on recruitment and hiring practices in law enforcement.

The committee plans to conduct a town hall-style public meeting July 23, where citizens will be allowed to speak out about policing.

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