See below for JUFJ’s testimony before Baltimore City Council in support of LO23-0033, to implement local control over the Baltimore Police Department. Toby Ditz wrote this testimony.
Thank you for holding this important hearing.
My name is Toby Ditz, and I am a resident of Bolton Hill, in District 11. I have lived in the City of Baltimore for almost four decades. On behalf of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), which organizes more than 1600 Baltimoreans in support of social, racial, and economic justice campaigns, I am submitting this testimony favoring the immediate implementation of local control of the Baltimore Police Department.
Judaism’s ethic of mutual care calls us to hold police accountable to the people. This is why JUFJ has been working for the restoration of local control since 2017. In partnership with the Coalition for Justice, Safety, and Jobs (CJSJ), we are asking you to support a bill that has been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly, SB758 /HB853, that would eliminate the last legal obstacle effective June 1, 2023. Co-sponsored by Senator Jill Carter and the City’s House Delegation, this remedial legislation removes an outdated clause in Article II of the City Charter that prevents our City Council—you—from legislating locally to shape police department policy.
Enabling legislation passed into law by the Maryland General Assembly in 2021 states in clear and simple language that the BPD would become a City agency on January 1, 2023 provided only that the residents of Baltimore City ratify a city charter amendment. And so we did! More than 132,000 Baltimore residents voted on Question H (the local control ballot measure), and the vast majority – over 82% – favored it.
Despite the enactment date laid out in the 2021 law and the clear mandate of our City’s voters—and much to the surprise of many of us—we still do not possess the full ability to regulate our police. The people of Baltimore know this is not right. We know this is not just. Our special status as the only locality in Maryland—and one of two in our entire country—to lack these powers is an insult to the majority Black City of Baltimore. Our special status must end now.
By making the small, but essential adjustment to the language of the City Charter, SB758/HB853 would make local control effective June 1. But some officials in City Hall think we need to go slow—to continue to deliberate about institutional arrangements, which could restrict or eliminate the City Council’s power to influence how the BPD operates. There is no mandate from the people of Baltimore for a fundamental rehaul of this kind, although we do urgently want to work locally with the City Council, our Mayor, and our civilian police oversight bodies on police reform and accountability. Our local institutions, along with the existing structure of the BPD, are more than equipped to handle full and immediate implementation. The only change would be the body with legislative oversight – instead of it being the General Assembly, it would be you, our City Council. If we, the people of Baltimore, want to make further changes in the future then we can do so after we have local control, just as other jurisdictions might.
We cannot wait any longer to have this tool of local legislation. In 2018, the Civilian Oversight Task Force, which was established as a requirement of the federal consent decree regarding The Baltimore City Police Department, recommended that local control be restored with “all deliberate speed.” And, when Mayor Brandon Scott convened his Local Control Advisory Board last year, he said that the people of Baltimore are “desperate” for local control because it is the foundation for “transparency and accountability.” That is exactly right. There is no credible reason for delay on this fundamental matter of self-governance, racial justice, and police accountability. Let’s cooperate to get the job done this year. Please support SB758 /HB853 and help us restore your legislative authority over the Baltimore City Police Department by June 1, 2023.