Members of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus say the state police department has a big problem with racial discrimination that has worsened over the decades, not improved.
In a brief Zoom discussion with Col. Jerry Jones, the superintendent of Maryland State Police, legislators confirmed reports this week that broke from WTOP’s news partner, NBC Washington, that describe the department as hostile to black troopers in culture, discipline and advancement.
State Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s County, said several members of the caucus met with more than 20 African-American state troopers. “The problems are deep,” Benson said.
She said, culturally, Black troopers have to put up with racist comments and actions, citing a trooper who was suspended not long after reporting that another colleague had left a banana on the hood of his car.
Benson added that there’s a belief that the promotions system is rigged. “If they score high, the rules are changed,” but that it’s understood if a complaint is filed, they’ll be retaliated against, she said.
It was a theme also touched on by other members of the caucus. “A lot of these officers are afraid to come before whatever investigation in the department because of fear or retaliation,” said Del. Darrell Barnes, D-Prince George’s County, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.
“It’s shameful,” Benson said. “What’s going on is shameful within the state police. This whole department is a mess.”
Jones began the hearing refuting some of the claims made in the NBC Washington report, saying that though there was an increase in disciplinary actions against Black troopers from 2019 to 2020, there was a decline from 2018 to 2019. He added that no Black troopers have been fired in recent years.
“The allegations that are being made against the department are vague and nonspecific,” Jones later told lawmakers.
He said this made it hard to address some of the questions legislators are asking. “Please, encourage folks that felt that they’ve been mistreated, please encourage them to reach out to investigative resources,” Jones said.
The recruitment and retention of Black troopers was repeatedly raised. Since 2003, the number of Black troopers in the department has declined by nearly half, according to NBC Washington.
Jones said it wasn’t for a lack of trying. “We are very serious as a department about creating a diverse work force,” he said.
The department has boosted its recruiting efforts, especially through social media, Jones said, and has boosted its relationships with the historically Black colleges and universities across Maryland and outside the state.
Sen. Arthur Ellis, D-Charles County, said he would be pressing Jones about efforts to boost minority recruitment and advancement every time the two spoke.
Jones agreed to meet with the caucus again in a month to talk about how the state police department is addressing some of the concerns raised.