Baltimore City’s Civilian Review Board (CRB), which investigates police misconduct allegations from the community, has long been criticized for its lack of teeth, both because its recommendations are in no way binding on the police commissioner, and because it lacks the subpoena power required to compel the testimony of all potential witnesses to an incident under investigation.
In an effort to strengthen the review board, and to give it greater credibility, Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, president of the Matthew A. Henson Community Association, has formed the Baltimore City Citizen Police Review Board Coalition, along with his fellow co-chairs the Rev. Dr. Heber Brown of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, Rev. Roland Patterson of Campfield AME Church, and former state senator Larry Young.
Currently, the CRB is made up of one community representative — appointed by the mayor — from each of the nine police districts in Baltimore. In addition to these nine members who have full voting rights on the board, there are three non-voting members: one from the Baltimore police commissioner’s office, one from the Fraternal Order of Police (the police union), and one from the Vanguard Society.
“We think that’s good,” said Cheatham during an interview with the AFRO. “We think having them on there gives you insight from officers themselves, just as long as they continue not to have a vote.”
The coalition has drafted legislative language that would reform the CRB in two ways. First, the coaltion would see two additional voting members added to the board, one from the Baltimore City branch of the NAACP, and one from the American Civil Liberties Union, Maryland. Second, and more significantly, the coalition is asking that the board be given the subpoena power it currently lacks.
“The subpoena power is the big issue,” said Cheatham. “That’s the one where I think –at least probably coming from the police perspective — they may have some concerns, but most of the civilian review boards around the country that are considered to be somewhat strong review boards in fact have that subpoena power.”
Without the subpoena power, Cheatham explained, the CRB lacks the ability to speak to all witnesses to an event, and is often forced to rely heavily on official police reports, giving only one side of the story. “It throws the whole game into one court,” said Cheatham.
Del. Curt Anderson (D), the chair of the Baltimore City delegation to the House of Delegates, told the AFRO in a previously published interview that his delegation will likely move to give greater weight to the CRB’s recommendations, so that the commissioner is not able to simply ignore them.
Cheatham says he would welcome such a development, but that he would like to work more closely with Anderson, whom Cheatham described as “a long-time friend,” to avoid there being multiple draft legislations floating around the General Assembly on the same issue.
Click here to see a copy of the coalition’s proposed draft.