By Collin Riviello

Hyattsville city councilmember Danny Schaible (Ward 2) announced in his April newsletter that he is sponsoring a new Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement Committee for Hyattsville. The proposed committee would adjudicate incidents that result in death while under police custody, any internal complaints involving heavy use of force, and all external complaints against Hyattsville police officers. The committee would make recommendations for possible disciplinary actions to the chief of police. 

If the city council approves Schaible’s proposal, Hyattsville will become Maryland’s second city that fields such a committee. Baltimore is the only other Maryland city to have a civilian oversight committee. Prince George’s County has a civilian oversight panel for the county police force that has been operating since 1990. 

“I think [this new committee] goes a long way in increasing accountability and transparency for our local police department,” Schaible told the Hyattsville Life & Times (HL&T). “This civilian oversight as a concept has been around for decades. It’s shown to be an effective construct in giving some non-police representation in that oversight process.”

According to Schaible, the committee would consist of five members, one from each of Hyattsville’s five wards. The committee’s creation would cost the city $3,000 in fees paid to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, which offers specialized training to citizens on how to conduct oversight investigations.

The current proposal outlines that the oversight committee would have access to evidence gathered during the internal affairs investigation. According to Schaible, following its review, the committee would recommend one of five possible findings to the police chief: sustained (improper conduct), exonerated (proper conduct), unfounded (didn’t happen), non-sustained (insufficient evidence) or administrative closure (i.e., officer no longer employed), and submit a findings letter. At the close of the calendar year, the committee would issue an annual report. 

Between 2017 and 2000, there were 27 external complaints, four of which were sustained, according to Adrienne Augustus, the media relations manager for the Hyattsville police department.

Augustus said in an email to the HL&T, “[Acting] Chief [Scott] Dunklee appreciates the call for police reform and is working with Councilman Schaible and the Police and Public Safety Citizens Advisory panel to establish reasonable and meaningful change that will benefit the department and the community overall.”

Schaible and the police department aren’t the only members of the community who want to implement police reform measures. At the June 9 Police and Public Safety Citizens’ Advisory Committee meeting, after a debate about the proposed oversight committee’s member age requirements, members voted unanimously to send a public letter of support for the committee to the Hyattsville City Council.

Schaible said his original proposal had a minimum age of 16 in order for the committee to be more demographically inclusive. Following discussion, a motion was made to change the age minimum to 21, which is the age at which a citizen can legally become a police officer for Hyattsville. 

Schaible said he hopes his proposal will be voted on and ratified by the city council soon, but expects it to take some time. Schaible still needs the support of the city council for his proposal to pass.

Collin Riviello is an intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times.