One of us, Richard Gibson, also knows there are additional burdens and standards of conduct placed on people of color that, generally, his white counterparts don’t have to worry about or meet. As a black man, a father, a career prosecutor and Howard County state’s attorney, he is frustrated greatly by these inequities. The other of us, John McCarthy, can empathize as he bears witness to it every day as a 35-year career prosecutor. We fully embrace the unique perspectives and role as top prosecutors in addressing the one question many in the community want to know: What is being done to prevent another George Floyd incident from happening here?
Trust is a two-way street. As former president Barack Obama recently stated, local leaders must effect change. We believe regaining the public’s trust is key for law enforcement to do its job and for everyone to follow a road map to safety and security. Here are the following measures we’ve put into practice:
Diversity first, ensuring justice in America is not “Just Us”: The criminal justice system, prosecutors, police and judges should reflect the demographics of the community they serve. We have implemented a hiring practice that reflects this value.
Reaching out to today’s youths: We will continue to make every effort to connect with the youths in our community, to equip them with knowledge and coping skills to navigate interactions with law enforcement safely whether in Howard or Montgomery counties or elsewhere.
Cultural competency and implicit bias: Law enforcement officers should be trained in the concept of implicit bias, use of body cameras, how to interact with individuals suffering from mental illness and de-escalation tactics.
Better training for police: Law enforcement officers should be taught safer detention and arrest strategies, including nonlethal methods to apprehend suspects. Chokeholds should be banned nationally and use-of-force guidelines standardized across the nation to exclude extended use of knee-to-the-neck methods for putting suspects into custody.
Assuring police accountability: We take our obligation of oversight of police conduct very seriously. If we learn of any circumstance in which law enforcement violates the rights of any member of our community, it will be dealt with decisively and appropriately. Howard and Montgomery counties have written agreements to review and, if necessary, prosecute cases in which a person loses his life in an involvement with a police officer. Our offices were the first in Maryland to adopt the recommendations of Obama’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing when we entered into an agreement ensuring that police-involved use-of-force cases resulting in death be prosecuted by offices independent of where the officer served.
We further agree with the task force’s recommendation that all police-related shootings resulting in death should be investigated by police agencies independent of the department from which the involved officer was a member. The results of those investigations should be published for public transparency.
The issues raised by Floyd’s death have concerned us for years. We hear and echo the voices across the United States and in our own diverse communities demanding that we do better. Here are three actions that we believe will lead the way toward reestablishing trust:
Create a national, centralized database on arrests, police use of force and in-custody deaths to be submitted to the FBI annually;
Establish an independent branch of the Maryland State Police to investigate all police-related deaths; and
Mandate reciprocal prosecution agreements throughout the country, similar to the memorandum of understanding our offices have jointly agreed upon.
As state’s attorneys, our primary goal is to maintain public safety for all members of our communities. We must ensure that we hold to a philosophy of service and protection to the community rather than a militaristic warrior mentality. Integrity matters, and true public safety can be achieved only if we work together. Paving a pathway to public trust is that first step.