Maciarello seeks police/community relations solutions

 

Wicomico County’s state’s attorney is recommending two ambitious initiatives to improve police-community relations: a public oversight committee and body-worn cameras for police.

State’s Attorney Matthew Maciarello said he has researched oversight committees in other counties and is convinced Salisbury would benefit.

The cameras, known as BWCs, are used by Fruitland police; the Salisbury force is testing the idea with a pilot program, he said.

Maciarello will write letters to city and county officials, asking them to consider his suggestions.

State’s attorney’s office personnel studied oversight committee benefits in Prince George’s County, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati and New York City to determine how a similar program in Salisbury could build better community trust.

In January, they will tour Prince George’s County and discuss the committee with officials there.

A committee in Salisbury would be composed of seven citizens, who are paid. They would be appointed by Wicomico County officials and represent medical, law enforcement and legal segments of the city, Maciarello said.

“They would have to be trained. You have to understand the internal processes and understand the law,” he said.

Committee members “would look at every single complaint that comes in — the use of force, harassment, use of bad language – every complaint,” the state’s attorney said.

“It has to be the creation of local legislation. These panels have costs associated with them,” he said.

Concerning body cameras, Maciarello said he and colleagues will ask legislators heading to Annapolis for the 2015 session to pass legislation “that creates clear instruction for law enforcement for BWC’s.”

“We support their use,” he said, adding research indicates they “modify the behavior of both police and civilians.”

“The existence of audio and video facilitates solutions in a more effective way. Right now complaints are the word of the officer or the word of the civilian. BWC’s bring clarity,” he said.

Although neither cameras nor an oversight committee is what Maciarello characterized as “a silver bullet,” both are steps in the right direction, he said.

He stressed he is not making the recommendations because of poor policing and, in fact, the city police force is dedicated and professional.

The recommendation is because “the key ingredient in any relationship is trust,” he said.

The idea for a committee wasn’t sparked by one incident, he said, but by citizens calling for oversight and by national incidents, including the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown. He was killed by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer, who was not indicted.

Locally this week, a Salisbury police officer was found by a judge to have made an unlawful arrest of a 15-year-old boy.

When the officer stopped the boy, Renaldo Mesadieu, for riding his bicycle on Route 13 while wearing headphones on both ears and not having a headlight, the boy reportedly punched him and ran.

More fighting ensued and the teenager was charged with several offenses. They included attempting to escape, making a false statement to an officer about his identity, resisting arrest, obstructing and hindering and second-degree assault.

Masadieu was found to be involved in the charges of false identity, operating a bicycle with a headset and not having a headlight.

At a juvenile hearing, Wicomico County Circuit Court Judge Leah Jane Seaton acquitted Mesadieu, prompting Defense Attorney Luke Rommel to say that, legally speaking, the officer, Justin Aita, made a false arrest.

“We need to be cognitive of what citizens are looking for,” Maciarello said.

Police Chief Barbara Duncan and Sheriff Mike Lewis “were absolute amenable” when he discussed the ideas with them, Maciarello said.

Neither could be reached for comment.

“I am very proud to work with them both. They make me proud each and every day. I get to see the way they make their decisions and the way they feel about all citizens,” he said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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