The Social Action Committee for Racial Justice and the Kent County Sheriff’s Office agree they’ve come a long way together to improve policing in the county in the aftermath of a national movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd, said SACRJ Co-Chair Arlene Lee at Tuesday’s Kent County Commissioners meeting.
Lee praised Kent County Sheriff John Price for being ahead of the curve with police reform following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 29.
“Sheriff Price runs a great shop,” Lee said. “Immediately after the death of George Floyd, Sheriff Price implemented a ‘duty to intervene’ policy. We found that remarkable. it was an important reform effort and he had already implemented it.”
The “Duty to Intervene” policy requires a police officer to intervene when witnessing another officer using excessive force when it is being applied. Other police agencies in the state also adopted the policy in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
Although Sheriff’s deputies are already trained in de-escalation, Sheriff Price has also committed to additional local ‘Crisis Intervention’ training for his department. Chestertown and Rock Hall police departments have also signed on for the training.
The Social Action Committee has been pushing for ‘Use of Force Reporting’ to be adopted in the Rock Hall and Chestertown Police Departments. The Sheriff’s office currently requires a ‘Response to Resistance Report’ whenever a deputy has to draw a weapon or use physical force to restrain a citizen.
The Social Action Committee is also advocating for a civilian review board, which Sheriff Price opposes. However, Price is open to reconsidering review boards after state lawmakers address the issue in the next legislative session.
With review boards to be determined, Sheriff Price has agreed to allow a citizen to sit in on disciplinary hearings of officers as long as they receive training from the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission on the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights police procedures. Currently, the law allows for a citizen member to sit in on disciplinary hearings, but it is not required.
There are still two sticking points that Sheriff Price currently can’t support, one of which is a measure to defund or steer money way from the Sheriff’s operating budget to other other programs — and the idea of removing police officers from the schools and replacing them with security guards.
Lee said the role of police officers in the schools have been blurred over the years by using them for day-to-day disciplinary action that should be handled by existing school staff.
The issue of local police officers in schools will have to be determined by the Kent County Board of Education, Lee said.
She said until a decision is made by the school board, Price and the Social Action Committee have agreed to meet with the school superintendent to better define the role of School Resource Officers in the school system.
This story will be updated.