The work group has been meeting by video conference for weeks. It first held a listening session with county residents, who largely expressed strong support for an examination of mental health and policing, an investment in the economy and education, and a commitment from authorities to ensure that the department looks more like the community it serves.
The group then began inviting officials and law enforcement representatives to teach them about the training and recruiting practices of the department, laws that prevent the release of police personnel files and internal affairs investigations.
Alsobrooks asked for reform recommendations by Oct. 30 for the county, which has struggled with police brutality and fraught relations between the community and law enforcement in the past.
Alsobrooks said her vision was to create a tailor-made team “that really spoke to our needs here in Prince George’s County.”
Those needs reflect the national conversation about changes in policing and consider the hyper-specific demographic and historical dynamics of this Washington suburb that is in the middle of searching for a new police chief. Prince George’s is wealthy with a wealth gap. It is at least 80 percent Black and Hispanic, with a police department that is 41 percent White.
The county spent the 2000s under investigation by the Justice Department after community complaints of excessive force, later implementing many “8 Can’t Wait” reform policies that have entered the national discourse in recent months.
It is also a place where police officers of color have alleged racial discrimination within the department in a federal lawsuit, and where former officer Michael A. Owen Jr. was charged earlier this year with second-degree murder after fatally shooting a handcuffed man.
“I don’t think there is one model that could fit Prince George’s County,” said Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s), who Alsobrooks appointed to chair the group along with Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Maureen Lamasney. “We know that Prince George’s County is a unique place.”
Alsobrooks recruited 21 others to the work group, including elected officials, former law enforcement officers, current or former prosecutors and public defenders, religious leaders, community organizers and an academic.
In recent weeks, the group has been presented with a trove of statistics.
“This is one of the first times we’re going to get a lot of transparency and data that usually you cannot get,” said Krystal Oriadha, the co-founder of PG Change Makers, which was formed after Floyd’s death. The group is calling for a repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights in Maryland, which gives police more due-process rights than all other U.S. residents. The group also wants to redirect funds from the county’s police budget toward economic, mental health and educational resources.
As a representative of the activist community on the work group, Oriadha said she wants to fight for the people who have been demanding change “way before the conversation took the national stage in 2020.”
“I know I am probably one of the more progressive voices,” she said. “I definitely wanted to make sure we had a seat at a table. And I say ‘we’ because I do mean we, the community.”
Other voices include representatives from the NAACP, the county chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Amara Legal Center and the Tree of Life Christian Ministries. The committee also includes Florence Felix-Lawson, the chair of the Citizen Complaint Oversight Panel, and retired Montgomery County police captain Sonia Pruitt of the National Black Police Association.
Alsobrooks said she put a great deal of thought into whom she appointed. Some people she approached. Others reached out to her.
“These are people who care very deeply about reform and care about justice,” Alsobrooks said. “I knew they had such a large stake in the outcome, and I knew there was no way we could put together reforms without the public input. We didn’t even need for the people in the group to agree with each other, and to be honest with you, that was important to me, too.”
Glenn Ivey was the Prince George’s state’s attorney in the 2000s, as the police department was mandated to reform under a federal consent decree. That period came on the heels of a huge demographic shift in the county from a majority-White to a majority-Black population, which ushered in a new attitude toward change, Ivey said.
The new policies and accountability mechanisms that came from the Justice Department intervention included implementing mandatory mental health training, required annual instruction on the department’s “use-of-force continuum” policies and de-escalation techniques, creating a layered system of accountability and rewriting the police canine protocols.
By 2009, the federal government decided that the Prince George’s Police Department had adequately addressed its failings regarding use-of-force practices.
“In a lot of ways, we got a head start on most jurisdictions in the country,” Ivey said. “Because we’re uniquely positioned as a jurisdiction, I think we need to assert that again, and there are some things that I think would really make sense in this moment.”
Ivey said he is eager to scrutinize the policies surrounding pretextual traffic stops, which experts say can enable racial profiling and precipitate a police shooting. Pretext stops allow an officer to pull over a motorist for a small infraction as a way to investigate whether a more serious offense is occurring.
Deputy County Attorney Joseph Ruddy, a lifelong Prince Georgian who worked as a prosecutor under Ivey and Alsobrooks, said he sees simple ways to increase transparency in the police department, including changing the county code, revisiting the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and rewriting training protocol.
He also brings a deep understanding of police accountability when officers violate department conduct rules or use excessive force. He reviewed and prosecuted police officers in the state’s attorney’s office, and he now oversees the in-house attorneys who investigate and prosecute bad-behaving officers as part of the internal affairs process.
The case involving Owen, the officer who fatally shot a handcuffed man in January, has already come up in meeting and will inform in part a larger conversation about preventing officer misconduct.
Washington pledges transparency with the work group’s recommendations. Many on the work group agree that whatever recommendations they develop, a crucial part of implementation relies on how committed those in power — including the new chief of police — are to making change.
“It is my hope that the county executive and the council takes these recommendations very seriously, and I think they will, and that they see the writing on the wall that people want change,” the delegate said.
After Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned this summer amid calls for his ouster by the head of the local NAACP, the county asked residents to weigh in on what was important for their next chief. About 3,500 people shared their thoughts, Alsobrooks said. A clinical psychotherapist will prepare an analysis of the community survey results, and a talent acquisition firm will soon begin contacting the civic, retail and business communities for feedback.
Alsobrooks said there have been “a lot” of applicants for the position from across the country and in the Washington region. She said she hopes to select a chief by the end of the year. She said she is looking for someone who understands the science of policing, who is “justice-oriented” and who is open to dialogue and change.
“We want someone who understands the culture here, understands the people here,” Alsobrooks said. “You can’t lead people you don’t know and understand.”