Late in the evening of Jan. 10, the Hyattsville City Council first discussed a proposal to provide civilian oversight of complaints against the Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD).
The late Mayor Kevin Ward had the last word, speaking after all his colleagues: “There’s been some criticism about how long it has taken to get this to the dais — I’ll take it; I’ll take it all day,” he said. A police officer had shot and badly injured a cousin of his, out of state in 2015, he explained. City decisions on police reform, Ward said, need to be made “in a way that’s not performative and not theatrical; it needs to be in a way that’s serious and deliberate.” He commended his colleagues for speaking to each other in that spirit.
Councilmember Danny Schiable (Ward 2) presented the proposal. Under it, Hyattsville would establish a new volunteer committee with one member from each ward. The committee would review evidence provided by the HCPD on civilian complaints against officers, as well as complaints involving use of force or deaths of individuals in police custody.
The committee, which would work in closed sessions, would produce a findings letter on each complaint, with a goal of providing quality control on police handling of complaints. The committee would also provide an annual report for the general public.
Schaible said Hyattsville typically processes five or six such complaints per year. The HCPD produced its own public annual report on the outcomes of complaints up until 2019. According to the HCPD website, the police chief now investigates all complaints.
HCPD Chief Jarod Towers voiced a concern that if he needed to let an officer go, the committee could cause further delay to what can already be a very long process, particularly if the officer is accused of criminal conduct.
City councilmembers asked questions about who should be selected for the committee and whether they should be compensated. Councilmembers also asked how the proposal would integrate with other police reform initiatives in the county and state.
Joanne Waszack (Ward 1) suggested that the equity officer that the city is seeking to hire should sit on the committee.
Rommel Sandino (Ward 5) asked if residents could bring complaints directly to the committee.
Edouard Haba (Ward 5) expressed skepticism that the committee would improve outcomes if members only reviewed evidence presented by the HCPD.