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Progress on a list of police reforms developed through discussions with the Social Action Committee for Racial Justice, the Kent County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Chestertown Police Department have been positive, said SACRJ CO-Chair Arlene Lee in her report to the Mayor and Council on Monday, Sept. 21.

“These were very great meetings,”  Lee said. “We were very enthusiastic about the relationship that we’re building with the chief and the police department.”

Lee said policies that grew out of a particular meeting this summer with CPD Chief John Dolgos and black men in the Chestertown community drew praise from SACRJ’s steering committee. 

She said she was asked by committee members “to point out what a great model that was and how important it was in terms of modeling how to engage with the black community.”

Lee also said SACRJ members applauded Dolgos for initiating a reform measure that requires new police officers be vetted for a history of racism or bias.

“Verification of five personal references as identified by the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions [and] obtain from references if there is any knowledge that the applicant has ever said or done anything that would lead them to believe that the applicant is a racist,” the new policy states.

In condemnation of George Floyd’s murder, CPD also adopted a Duty to Intervene policy in July that requires officers to intervene when another officer is using excessive force.

Lee said this policy would have prevented George Floyd’s death had it been in place by the Minneapolis Police Department before May 29.

A change in the use of force policy is also under consideration by CPD that would require reporting any time a firearm is pulled or an officer’s hands or legs are used to forcefully control someone.

CPD has also agreed to establish bike patrols and select a community liaison based on relevant experience and expertise.

What has been tabled for now is a recommendation by SACRJ to use the next budget cycle to divert some CPD funds and apply for grants that would provide additional community resources such as restorative justice, mentoring and mediation programs.

Mayor Chris Cerino liked the idea of grants but expressed concern about diverting funds away from CPD.

“When it comes to budgetary issues, that’s where it gets really sensitive for me,” Cerino said after Lee’s presentation. “If you’ve been paying attention to our budget for the last seven years it is not a budget filled with a lot of fat. It’s got to be a mayor and council decision especially right now with COVID-19, when any month we could be on lockdown again. Right now we have to be super conservative.”

A second item tabled in the reform recommendations is the creation of a Citizens Review Board in Chestertown, but the power granted civilian boards could change in the next Maryland General Assembly session as some lawmakers have called for more civilian oversight of police in the wake of the Floyd murder. 

For example, civilian review boards are not allowed to interview officers accused of misconduct under the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, only officers can interview other officers. Changes and even repeal of LEOBR are also on the table for the 2021 session.

LOEBR has been blamed for slowing down investigations of misconduct and allowing police agencies to stand on their rights to noncooperation and frustrate investigations.

However, CPD is moving forward with a plan to put a civilian on the Discipline Hearing Board who undergoes training in LEOBR.