Criminal Justice Task Force gets going, refines its agenda

A new task force charged with improving relations between the public and the Salisbury Police Department as well as recommending policy and procedural changes held its first meeting to begin reviewing how the department operates.

The city’s new Criminal Justice Reform Task Force comes in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers that spurred weeks of demonstrations across the country and calls for reforms to police departments. More recently, a Louisville, Kentucky, grand jury’s failure to indict police officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor sparked more demonstrations.

“We have a lot of ground to cover in just one year, but the events that have occurred nationwide over the past few months make the urgency of the work this task force is doing even more apparent,” said City Administrator Julia Glanz.

The 21 members of the new task force were selected from 215 applicants which is the most the city has ever received for any city board or task force. By comparison, the city received 50 applications fort its Lynching Memorial Task Force, which at the time was a record number.

Task force members are Travon Miles, Schellee Gonzalez, Kala Farrare, Kevin Whittington, Heather Collins, Ciara Cooks, Eileen Johnson, William Harden, Danielle Thomas, Kendra Hayward, James Holbrook, Tammy Carey, Wesley Moore, Keith Myer, Joseph Pryor, Heather Johnson, Randall Cone, Eddie Harmon, Christopher Carter, Kevaudria Armstead, and Anthony Darby. 

Representatives from the city of Salisbury, Salisbury Police Department and Tri-Community Mediation also attended the group’s Sept. 15 meeting.

This first meeting served to lay the foundation upon which the Task Force will work on its ultimate goal of building a stronger sense of trust and understanding between the Salisbury community and their police department, according to city officials.

Members of the task force will make policy and procedural recommendations to the mayor and police chief. 

“SPD is eager to work with the task force to help them better understand our procedures and operations, as well as to listen to their concerns, consider their recommendations, and to build trust between our department and the members of the community in which we proudly serve,” said Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan. 

Salisbury’s task force is one of several initiatives outlined by Duncan and Mayor Jake Day in March as part of an effort to ensure transparency and boost public confidence in the police department that has been rocked by several internal investigations.

The Salisbury Police Department Comprehensive Trust Rebuilding Initiative was drafted in response to a series of officer-related incidents of misconduct, including an evidence mishandling case dating to 2011, a Salisbury police officer arrested in another jurisdiction and another Salisbury officer charged in Delaware of threatening a civilian with a gun.

In addition to the creation of the Criminal Justice Reform Task Force, the guidelines are:

  • 100 percent inventory of Property Room under supervision of independent forensic auditor in partnership with Maryland State Police, Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office and Office of the Public Defender
  • Revive the Citizen Police Academy 
  • Update property room staff structure and authorities
  • Update property/evidence policies and procedures 
  • Launch police complaint mediation program
  • Launch new pathways for citizen complaints
  • Launch citizen review of Police Department policies 
  • Continue/expand community relationship building
  • Continue youth engagement
  • Explore and launch new deployment tactics 
  • Field a Community Policing Team
  • Improve recruiting/retention with public safety tax incentives, expanded benefits package

The Criminal Justice Reform Task Force convenes via Zoom each month and all meetings are open to the public. Meeting dates and the Zoom meeting link are listed on the city website. 

“I have great confidence in the extremely dedicated group of people who have stepped up to represent our community on the Criminal Justice Reform Task Force and I look forward to working with them,” Glanz said.

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