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Dundalk shows support for law enforcement as police reform discussions intensify

Police community relations have been a nationwide discussion throughout the summer. Dundalkians gathered together during the unofficial end of summer in support of Baltimore County police officers.

We Back Blue, a nonprofit organization that raises support for law enforcement through rallies, marches and other organized large group activities, came to Dundalk on Sept. 6 for a rally and motorcycle ride. We Back Blue’s founder, Melissa Robey, connected with local conservative activist Tim Fazenbaker to make the rally happen in Dundalk.

The rally, which took place at The New Green Room Billiards, was paired with a motorcycle ride, which was a trip around the Interstate-695 beltway. Nearly 200 motorcycles showed up to the rally and ride. The purpose of the ride was to remember Amy Caprio, a Baltimore County police officer who was killed in the line of duty two years ago.

The rally was originally planned to end with a live performance by Trapt, a modern rock band from California. Trapt was unable to perform due to county restrictions, according to Fazenbaker.

The efforts from We Back Blue and other pro-law enforcement organizations come at a time when national discourse is centered around law enforcement in America and its treatment of communities across the nation – particularly people of color. This round of national discourse was sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black Minnesota man who died while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. That happened on May 25, sparking protests, and some rioting, in cities across the country.

The ripple effect from Floyd’s death, which is one of many over the past several years, reached Dundalk. Turner Station residents held a Black Lives Matter march to demand police reform and equal treatment toward those they are sworn to protect. The march, held in June, began at Turner Station Park and ended in downtown Dundalk.

Black Lives Matter, a decentralized movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially-motivated violence against black people, is the rallying cry of those demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality. It has also become, however, a polarizing phrase in social and political discourse.

What also has become a polarizing topic is the perception of law enforcement officers – if they are public servants who put their lives at risk to protect their communities, or if they have fallen short of that expectation by way aggressive law enforcement techniques and a lack of accountability. The negative perception of law enforcement pushed Robey to start We Back Blue, according to her.

“My sister is in law enforcement, and I just got really tired of seeing police officers treated poorly while doing the job they do every single day,” Robey told the Eagle.

“They are out there saving lives.”

The topic of police reform

Reforming local police departments has been a hotly-debated topic in communities across the country. Dundalk, and Baltimore County, have not been any different. Earlier this year, Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones, D-4, introduced a bill that contained a series of reforms, including banning chokeholds, creating civilian oversight positions and requiring officers to intervene when another officer is using unnecessary force.

That bill was tabled after a legislative work session. The effort to bring police reform to Baltimore County hasn’t stopped there. This week, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. introduced a series of police reform bills, all packaged together in what is called the Strengthening Modernization, Accountability, Reform, and Transparency (SMART) Policing Act. You can read about the SMART Policing Act on the Front Page of this newspaper.

This is the second package of initiatives announced by the county over the past four months. In June, Olszewski announced an unprecedented series of executive actions regarding policing in Baltimore County, including changing the use of deadly force policy, increasing transparency and establishing independent oversight of hiring and recruitment practices.

The reactions to these initiatives have been mixed. Some Dundalkians, like Fazenbaker, have held rallies showing support of law enforcement. Others have praised these executive actions, saying they are long overdue.

Is police reform needed?

That question has yet to find a definite answer. Discussions have taken place around Baltimore County pertaining to police community relations, as well as race relations in communities. Earlier this year, Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) held a first-of-its-kind virtual open discussion about racial and cultural relations inside Baltimore County schools.

Last month, the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) hosted a virtual discussion on police community relations. An archived stream of the live discussion can be found on the BCPL Youtube Channel.

The debate was moderated by Faraji Muhammad, a radio personality who is the host of “For the Culture with Faraji,” which airs on WEAA 88.9 FM. The 90-plus minute discussion featured several panelists, including Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt; Anthony Fugett, president of the NAACP of Baltimore County; and David Rose, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 4.

The discussion took place a few days after an incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a Black man named Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police officers. The incident was captured on video, which quickly went viral, leading to ongoing protests in the city.

Muhammad asked Hyatt about the lack of progress behind structural changes in police departments. Hyatt said she could answer from the perspective of BCPD, saying that change in large organizations takes time.

“I started in June of 2019, and in that time we have made a lot of internal progression,” Hyatt said.

“These things take time. For us, whether it’s law enforcement or anything else, for us to have sustainable change we have to create solutions that will stand the test of time.”

Hyatt gave examples of the internal progress BCPD has made under her watch. A director of accountability and compliance has been established, who is tasked with reviewing internal components within BCPD, she said. A director of diversity and inclusion was also created since she assumed her role as police chief 14 months ago. Hyatt said that BCPD is one of “not many” police departments that have someone assuming that role within the department.

Hyatt said that society works in a way that people take a moment to put their attention on an issue before moving on, adding that it will take commitment to bring more progress.

“Where we are right now in society, we are at a different place,” Hyatt said. “From the police department’s perspective, our commitment is to listening and to being a part of building sustainable solutions, and that takes time to do properly and effectively.”

Muhammad then brought Rose into the discussion of structural change within police departments, beginning by asking Rose to address a public view that police unions aim to only protect the interests of officers as opposed to improving relations between police officers and communities. Rose responded by saying that the Baltimore County FOP takes on a different role from other police unions across the country.

“We’re more of a ‘how can we work together to make the police department better, and how can we work together to make relationships between the police department and the community,’” Rose said. “We think the citizens are better served if the union and the police department work together, collaboratively, on those issues as best as we can.”

“Sometimes, we have some adversarial situations just because of both play, between management and employees. We try not to take those personally, and be constructive and have a dialogue.”

Muhammad responded to Rose by saying that there are concerns about the influence unions have on policing policies, and that there is a perception that unions have a greater amount of lobbying power that can interfere with justice. Rose responded by saying that FOP Lodge No. 4 only represents officers when it feels they have done something wrong or if they have been found to have violated a department policy.

“As far as policing policy, it has always been our point of view that the police department makes the policy, but the union represents the employees who should have a say and some input in constructing the policy,” Rose said. “If you have input from the people who the policy is going to be placed upon, sometimes they have the best information and experience to help draft policy.”

Adam Jackson, Chief Operating Officer of a Baltimore City-based grassroots organization called Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, responded to Rose by saying that the historical relationship between law enforcement and community has “almost always been one of oppression and social control.”

Jackson used several examples to back up his claim. One example was “COINTELPRO,” a series of covert projects conducted by the FBI to target political organizations, including the civil rights movement, the Nation of Islam, leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther Party, etc. Practices included disruption, intimidation, surveillance and intimidation. He used two local examples – Christopher Brown and Korryn Gaines.

Gaines was killed inside her home by Baltimore County police officers in Randallstown in 2016. Officers were serving warrant for an unpaid traffic violation. Gaines sat inside her home with a shotgun, which she told officers she was using to protect her son, according to media reports. Officers eventually entered her home. She was killed by police soon after.

Brown died in 2012 after an altercation with an off-duty Baltimore County police officer. His death was ruled by asphyxiation.

Jackson claimed that the FOP, both the state chapter and local chapter, are willing to make concessions when it comes to police community relations, but that there is always friction when it comes to civilian oversight.

“What changes the culture of policing is the level of oversight that civilians and residents have in the department,”

The entire debate can be found on the BCPL Youtube channel.


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County announces series of police reform initiatives
kkulich / Photo provided by Johnny Oszewski 

County Executive Johnny Olszewski with Chief Hyatt and other Baltimore County Police officers.

Baltimore County government officials announced on Tuesday the Strengthening Modernization, Accountability, Reform, and Transparency (SMART) Policing Act, a comprehensive package of initiatives to improve and modernize policing in Baltimore County while strengthening community relations.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge for Baltimore County, however, disputes some of these reforms are needed, and that several concerns are already being addressed.

“We’ve heard from the public and the time to act is now. With the SMART Policing Act, Baltimore County will ban chokeholds, strengthen training in de-escalation, ensure there are limits on use of force, and increase transparency,” said Councilman Julian Jones, who will formally introduce the SMART Policing Act at the Baltimore County Council Meeting scheduled for Tuesday night.

“I value and respect the great men and women of the Baltimore County Police Department, and this common sense bill will help ensure they receive the right training and policies to serve and protect every member of every community,” Jones said

“We are living in a moment that demands action, and I am proud to join Councilman Jones and his colleagues in support of the SMART Policing Act to strengthen accountability and promote more equitable policing for all,” Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. said. “We announced unprecedented reforms in June, which began the process of improving transparency and strengthening relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

“Today, we’re coming together united in Baltimore County’s next step forward in the ongoing fight for equal justice.”

The SMART Policing Act:

Modernizes Policing Tactics

  • by:
  • Banning the use of all neck restraints, including chokeholds, unless a person’s life is in immediate jeopardy;
  • Requiring a policy specifying that officers render aid or call for medical care for any individual in police custody who has an obvious injury or complaint of injury;
  • Requiring the Baltimore County Police Department to introduce policy affirming the sanctity of life and the dignity and value of all persons;

Enhances and Enshrines Reforms on Use of Force

  • by:
  • Requiring the Department to introduce policies to limit the use of force;
  • Requiring the Department to introduce policy obligating officers to intervene to stop fellow officers from using excessive force and report uses of force;
  • Providing protections to prohibit retaliation against those who report misconduct;
  • Requiring the Department to implement an early intervention system to provide officers at-risk of engaging in the use of excessive force with additional training or other behavioral interventions;

Improves Training and Accountability

  • by:
  • Barring individuals with prior disciplinary records in other jurisdictions or agencies from serving as a Baltimore County Police Officer;
  • Requiring annual training in de-escalation, implicit bias, and the use of force;

Expands Transparency

  • by:
  • Authorizing the Chief of Police to select up to two members of the public to serve on a police hearing board. Due to state law, final approval of the membership is subject to collective bargaining;
  • Requiring collection and public access to use of force data and police involved shootings.

“This is a critical time and we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to expand community based policing, promote crime reduction, and build public trust across Baltimore County. The SMART Policing Act will make an already strong police department even stronger,” County Council Chair Cathy Bevins said.

“I would like to thank all those who came together to support this legislation that continues robust law enforcement, in a smart manner that is sensitive to all our communities,” said Councilman David Marks.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, in Baltimore County, had earlier published a response on their web site written by Lodge president David Rose.

In regards to chokeholds, Rose wrote county police do not intentionally use chokeholds except in situations where it is “objectively reasonable” under the circumstances to use deadly force.

County police receive training in de-escalation at the training academy, where it is a primary focus in both classroom and scenario-based situations.

It is also already considered the duty of all county officers to intervene, stop, prevent and report any action by another officer that violates the law or policy, Rose wrote.

County officers are also “trained and re-trained in the areas of constitutional policing, the sanctity of life and the lawful use of force,” Rose wrote. Officers activate body cameras on virtually every encounter with the public, and document every use of force, traffic stop, arrest and search, and write reports for all reported crimes.

The FOP also released statistics earlier this summer documenting, over a 10-year period (2010-2019), how county police have seen a significant decrease in the use of force by officers, arrests, firing their weapons and citizen complaints, while seeing a significant increase in calls for service and the county population.


Sparrows Point graduate Mya King signs her letter of intent to transfer from Ohio University to Towson University.


The Mount Carmel volleyball team is one of the fall sports whose season has just been postponed indefinitely by the IAAM and the MIAA.


Are you ready for high school football ... in February

The Baltimore County Schools Department of Athletics presented county high schools last week with a plan for handling interscholastic athletics for the upcoming school year.

The county had previously stated the enter first semester (ending January 30) will be conducted by remote learning, and the fall and winter sports seasons have been postponed.

All three sports seasons will be conducted in abbreviated form during the second semester, which starts Feb. 1 and will last until mid-June.

The new schedule calls for the fall sports season — football, soccer, field hockey, volleyball and golf — to run from Feb. 1 to March 27; the winter season — basketball, wrestling and indoor track — will go from March 15 to May 8; and the spring season (baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, track and field — from April 16 to June 19.

In order to participate in athletics in the second semester, however, students must take part in virtual sessions during the first semester.

For fall, that’s Sept. 8 through Oct. 23; for winter, Oct. 26 through Dec. 11; and spring, Dec.14 to Jan. 29.

During the first semester virtual sessions, coaches will conduct and structure conditioning and skill-development activities for their athletes, as well as meet (via Schoology and platforms such as Google Meets) their athletes, build relationships, support classroom achievement and structure mentor groups.

Coaches will meet with their teams for about three-to-four hours each week.

“I think it’s the best we’ve had to work with despite the conditions,” Patapsco athletic director Chris McGuinness said. “No one has had contact with their athletes for months, so I’m hoping they are excited to see their student-athletes, and vice versa.

“The goal is to find out where the students are mentally and physically and try to prescribe individual workouts/training to motivate them. Checking in on them tosee how they are doinbg in the virtual classroom is just as big, since they will be graded and it would count towards their eligibility.”

Students wishing to participate in athletics must register for the first semester virtual sessions, for each sport in which they plan to participate.

All registrations can be done online, with the forms for each county school being hosted by the Form Releaf web site.

Go to formreleaf.com, click on “organizations,” and look for your high school.

Students must also maintain academic eligibility through the first semester, with report cards issued on Feb. 11, 2021 impacting eligibility.

Physical exams must also be completed and submitted. The updated forms can be found at mpssaa.org/assets/1/6/physical_evaluation_form.pdf.

The new form contains an additional page for COVID-19.

At this time, there is no no on what form the abbreviated seasons will take. Speculation is the football season will be six weeks; there is no information on what the postseason will be like, if there are any postseasons at all.

Since Gov. Larry Hogan announced last week that the state will move into Stage 3 of the coronavirus recovery plan, and Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. said the county will follow suit, Baltimore County Public Schools indicated it is open to re-evaluating the remote learning lan at the end of the first quarter, with the possibility of going to in-person schooling earlier.

In that case, sports may also be allowed to begin sooner than Feb. 1.