Laurel police, NAACP broker agreement

April 18, 2013

The Laurel Police Department and the Prince George’s County NAACP signed an agreement Thursday that they say will help improve relations between police and residents in the wake of incidents that have sparked tension.

The voluntary agreement — brokered in part by the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service — is not binding in any legal sense, and its terms are mostly innocuous. Among other things, it calls for the police department to contact the NAACP within 48 hours of events with “potential racial implications,” and similarly dictates the NAACP contact police to address complaints its group receives. The agreement also suggests the NAACP will help the department with recruiting and the police department will make arrangements for Justice Department “Cultural Professionalism” training.

“The purpose here was to increase trust,” said Grand Lum, director of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service.

Prince George’s NAACP President Bob Ross said the Laurel police department was “on the radar” after a video emerged in August showing questionable contact between an officer and a suspect. That incident, he said, came during a nearly four-month period in which the NAACP received 25 complaints about Laurel officers, though the man in the video never formally filed a complaint with the NAACP and now is being represented by a private attorney in a civil lawsuit.

Ross said he believes officials will “come to a resolution on the vast majority” of the 25 complaints — which include officers swearing on traffic stops and making youths sit on the curb in the rain. He said Thursday’s agreement will help improve police-resident relations.

Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin said he was unsure what 25 complaints Ross was referring to, but the agreement demonstrated he was committed to improving communication with residents and vigorously investigating complaints. He said the officer in the video remains on duty but is the subject of an internal affairs investigation. Grand jurors, he said, declined to bring criminal charges in that case.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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