CENTREVILLE — Acknowledging a greater need for police accountability in other jurisdictions, political and law enforcement leaders in Queen Anne’s County are chafed by a state-required board overseeing public complaints against police officers.
“Whether the accountability board is appropriate for Queen Anne’s County raises the same question as to whether one size fits all,” said Commissioner Steve Wilson. “Does it ever?”
The board — which will be made up of citizen members and a chairperson with at least 20 years experience as a law enforcement officer — was a transparency measure built into the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. Enacted last year after state lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the bill goes into effect July 1.
At that time, every Maryland county must establish a police accountability board, an administrative charging committee, and a trial board to consider complaints, recommend ramifications and, if necessary, conduct a judicial-like review process.
In Queen Anne’s County, complaints made against the Office of the Sheriff and the Centreville Police Department will be handled by the state-sanctioned entity. Complaints made against state law enforcement agencies active in the area, such as the Maryland Transportation Authority, the Maryland Natural Resources Police, and the Maryland State Police, will be considered by a separate, state-level board.
QA Sheriff Gary Hofmann and State’s Attorney Lance Richardson provided the county commissioners with an overview of the local board during their March 22 meeting. After discussion, the commissioners adopted Resolution 22-02, formally creating the accountability board and opening up the member selection process. Richardson said the county was looking at finding three people to serve, though he could not confirm who was being considered.
Hofmann, who told the commissioners he’d do his best to remain politically correct, said the state law was a “blanket approach” to correct issues he believes should be settled on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. Adding that he was proud of the men and women who serve Queen Anne’s County, he noted that low complaint levels and active transparency measures like body-worn cameras may lessen the need for the board.
“I don’t think this is going to be a laborious job for anybody, like it would be in other jurisdictions,” Hofmann said. “I think the workload [here] will be very light.”
Since 2017, soon after the QA Office of the Sheriff executed its first contract for body cams, the agency has faced 61 complaints, according to Major Dwayne Boardman. Those incidents, which include filings by both staff and citizens, resulted in seven resignations and two terminations.
Additionally, of the 61 complaints, 23 came from the public, 37 were sustained, or validated, and three are currently under internal investigation.
In a March 28 interview, Hofmann expressed frustration at the board’s membership requirements. Beyond the chairperson, who must have served at least two decades in a law enforcement role, membership is open to all U.S. citizens who have not been convicted of a felony — though active police are not permitted to serve.
The sheriff said that with this process, some of his elected duties will be taken out of his hands.
“This legislation is taking away what the public elected me to do,” Hofmann said. “To manage the Office of the Sheriff and administer appropriate disciplinary actions if deemed necessary.”
The Queen Anne’s County Police Accountability Board holds multiple responsibilities. Beyond receiving public complaints of misconduct, the board is required to hold quarterly meetings with law enforcement agencies and review the disciplinary outcomes that stem from sustained incidents. Also, the board will be required to produce an annual report identifying disciplinary trends and crafting recommendations to improve local accountability.
Complaints received by the accountability board must be forwarded to the appropriate police agency within three days, where an internal investigation will determine whether policy or law was breached.
If deemed so, the incident will be forwarded to the Queen Anne’s County Administrative Charging Committee, which will meet once a month or as needed. Composed of a QAPAB member, two civilian members selected by the QAPAB, and two civilian members selected by the commissioners — the resolution states that all civilian members will receive police procedural training from the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission — the committee will decide whether the officer in question shall be charged and make a punitive recommendation based on the agency’s disciplinary matrix.
According to the law, the police chief or sheriff may offer the same level of discipline as the charging committee, but “may not deviate below the discipline recommended by the QAACC.”
The police officer named in the complaint does have the option to refuse the recommendation, in which case, the incident would go before a trial board. Each law enforcement agency will have to establish its own trial board procedure, though small agencies may use another’s process by mutual agreement.
The trial board will consist of an active or retired administrative law judge or a retired judge from the district or circuit court, a civilian who is not a member of the charging committee, and a police officer of equal rank to the one accused of misconduct. The members will be selected by the commissioners, the QAPAB, and the head of the involved law enforcement agency respectively.
The trial board’s proceedings will be open to the public, though certain information, including confidential sources and victims, will remain confidential.
Richardson said the board will be a more transparent, “user-friendly” process for police-involved investigations, but shared the sheriff’s belief that they would be better served in metropolitan areas as opposed to Queen Anne’s County, where community-police relations are generally good — last fall, the Sheriff’s office was selected as the organization that made the community a better place in a local readers “best of” edition.
Richardson said, however, that he’ll keep an open mind with the board, adding that his office will be available to issue subpoenas, secure body camera footage for review, and offer “administrative assistance” in investigations.
Despite his apprehensions of the board, Hofmann explained that neither he nor his deputies are above accountability. The Queen Anne’s County Office of the Sheriff has operated in public with body-worn cameras since 2016.
Though Commissioner Jack Wilson voiced concerns that creating an accountability body may spur more complaints than normal, Hofmann countered by saying that the public already has several routes to issue concerns. Complaints against the Sheriff’s office can be filed in person, on the agency’s website, or through its mobile app.
Hofmann said the board will corroborate his office’s efficiency in handling public complaints.
“This is going to emphasize to the public that what we’re doing has been right; that we’ve been fair; and that we take complaints seriously,” the sheriff said.
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