Baltimore County’s Workgroup on Equitable Policing announced last week two listening sessions seeking public comment to ensure equitable policing.

One of those listening sessions will be held in Dundalk at Sollers Point Community Center, located at 323 Sollers Point Rd. on Feb. 13. It will run from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Troy Williams, Baltimore County’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Chair of the Baltimore County Workgroup on Equitable Policing told the Dundalk Eagle this workgroup is a first-of-its-kind workgroup focused on bringing together law enforcement, community advocates, and elected leaders to examine current policing policies, analyze data, and to hear directly from our community members, in order to identify actionable recommendations to promote fairness, improve accountability and ensure equitable policing across Baltimore County.

“These town halls are an opportunity for us to listen and to help shape our recommendations,” he said.

The community listening sessions are designed to educate the public about the goals and objectives of the Equitable Policing workgroup, while also engaging community stakeholders and asking them to share their perspectives on policing in the county – particularly as it relates to traffic stops, Williams said.

Lynn Hartnett Mitchell, who has been the president of the Eastwood Residents and Businesses Community Association of Baltimore County for the past five years, is one person who is going to both listen and offer input, particularly when it comes to traffic stops.

“I am not sure how many of our constituents know this, but traffic stops are an important part of policing for Precinct 12, as I’m sure they are for other precincts and jurisdictions and surrounding Counties,” Mitchell said. “Police are able to gain much more knowledge about an individual through a traffic stop as it may lead to an arrest, or place him/her under suspicion for another crime just by being pulled over for a burned out tail light or blinker, or a malfunctioning headlight, and their name and license run through the system.”

Mitchell said it’s imperative that all traffic stops are fair and equal, and the county’s equitable policing workgroup should ensure that all constituents are treated equally and fairly under the laws of Baltimore County.

Melissa Carlson-Watts, the president of the North Point Peninsula Citizens on Patrol, said she encourages everyone to attend the listening session because it’s important to hear what is going on in other communities, which helps you stay informed.

“If permitted, you have a chance to bring new ideas to the table and discuss the pros and cons,” Carlson-Watts said. “It’s a great way to network. My focus is mainly on Citizens on Patrol.”

Williams agreed, saying the meetings are critically important for providing the workgroup with better understanding and context for policing within the county.

“The testimony and other anecdotal evidence will provide additional context and insight as it relates to traffic stops and overall policing within the county,” Williams said. “This information is foundational to the workgroup’s examination of and recommendations for, policing polices, practices and training moving forward.”

The listening session in Dundalk is the second of two sessions in Baltimore County. The first will be held in Randallstown on Jan. 9. Williams said the Randallstown listening session will be used to receive feedback and make necessary adjustments to the program.

“The paramount objective is to ensure that we are hearing from county residents around these issues,” Williams said.

The workgroup is currently in the data examination, assessment and goal-setting phase, Williams said, and this is why it is so critically important for the workgroup to hear from the community.

“As the workgroup continues to convenes, we anticipate setting goals, proposing strategies and establishing metrics to advance the recommendations set forth in the workgroup’s final report, which is anticipated in August 2020,” he said. “An initial draft of the report will be available for public comment in July 2020.”

The Baltimore County Workgroup on Equitable Policing was established in November 2019 after County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. signed an executive order to create it. Its purpose is to examine policing policies and practices and make recommendations for ensuring equitable policing in Baltimore County.

According to Williams, a review of 2018 data shows that African-American individuals were issued citations at a rate higher than other individuals. While the data does not necessarily indicate bias or discrimination, the County believes the data merits thorough examination, he said.