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Civil Rights Leader Moves to Launch ‘People-Powered’ Database

This month, the Caucus of African American Leaders entered a one-year pilot program with a California software company to monitor police conduct in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, Md.

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(TNS) — Carl Snowden remembers the names of many police officers — officers accused of harassment, excessive force, abandoning investigations and abusing their power. Sitting inside a courthouse record room last month, the civil rights leader and former Annapolis alderman recalled the story of Anne Arundel County Police Capt. Jeffrey Silverman.

Amid an internal investigation in late 2021, Silverman retired after 27 years of service. It wouldn't be revealed until months later, however, that the captain had sexually harassed a subordinate officer and had sex with a civilian while on duty. Silverman denied any wrongdoing.

Even so, throughout his career, the captain's conduct had made him the subject of six separate investigations, a records request found, though county police declined to release information on three of them. Police determined they didn't involve the public.

"How do they decide that?" Snowden asked. "Now, there's the problem."

This month, the Caucus of African American Leaders entered a one-year pilot program with a California software company to monitor police conduct in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. It's called the George Floyd Transparency Project and Snowden, the caucus' convener, said its purpose is to "allow people to know what their options are in pursuing justice."

Floyd was unarmed when he was killed in 2020 while in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers. His death led to worldwide protests and revived a national conversation around police reform and accountability.

"The more a light is shined on this," Snowden said, "people will see these cases are not an aberration but suggest a pattern."

Designed by Sivil Technologies, the "intake to closure" software combines a public-facing portal for citizens to submit compliments or complaints with an administrative dashboard for caucus leaders to review cases.

On the portal, users can view and download aggregated case data, according to Sivil's co-founder Tony Rice, including the number of cases submitted, type of allegations made, as well as demographic data. That being said, the public will not be able to download any information on an officer, Rice said.

Instead, Snowden said he plans to compile a list of all active officers in the Anne Arundel County and Annapolis police departments. After doing so, the caucus will be able to attach submitted conduct reports directly to an officer's name inside a database.

By the end of the first-year trial period, the civil rights leader said he hopes the Anne Arundel County Police Accountability Board will consider implementing the Sivil software, just as governments in Philadelphia and Arlington County, Virginia have done.

"We have watched for decades unarmed African Americans dying at the hands of police officers," Snowden said in a statement after signing the first-year contract. "These controversial deaths have created mistrust of the police in our community. It is important, that the public is made aware of when these events occurred and are informed on what can be done."

Snowden said the caucus plans to unveil the software Tuesday during its next meeting at the Wiley H. Bates Legacy Center, which is open to the public and begins at 5 p.m. Once launched, the online tool will be accessible through the caucus' website: aacaal.org.

The George Floyd Transparency Project is the latest measure in Anne Arundel County to track police conduct and the first operated by members of the public.

Both the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County police departments have complaint forms citizens may use. The latter has also launched dashboards featuring complaint data since 2022 and responses to resistance and aggression since 2018. They are available to review on the county police department's website.

In a statement to The Capital, department spokesperson Lt. Jacklyn Davis said county police follow all state and federal laws, including those regarding government transparency.

When contacted by phone, Annapolis Police Chief Ed Jackson said he didn't "see any problems" with the caucus' transparency project but is still being advised by his command staff on how best to collaborate with it.

"I'm not diametrically opposed to it," Jackson said of the project, "but I want to make sure there's no legal issues conflicting with state law."

Additionally, as part of a sweeping reform bill in 2021, state legislators established police accountability boards in all Maryland counties, as well as Baltimore City, to process citizen complaints.

As those boards began work earlier this year with all of the law's components in place — the deadlines and training requirements written into the law delayed part of Anne Arundel's implementation — civil rights leaders have challenged the concept's efficacy.

Despite their name, accountability boards have no oversight over complaints. Instead, when a citizen files a complaint against a law enforcement officer, the agency in question handles the investigation before forwarding its findings to the citizen board.

A bill that would have granted the boards investigatory and subpoena powers failed in the 2023 legislative session.

Lynda Davis, another caucus member from Linthicum, said there's a need for a "people-powered" mode of accountability instead of "police-powered."

"I am hoping the George Floyd Transparency Project will increase transparency and accountability and will stop police misconduct and brutality," Davis said.

Earlier this year, members of the accountability board expressed a similar frustration regarding transparency. During their quarterly update in March with the five law enforcement departments under their purview — Anne Arundel, Annapolis, the county sheriff's office, Crofton and Anne Arundel Community College — board members accused police of not complying with the County Code, saying they were not receiving information on complaints when they were submitted directly to an agency.

Accountability Chair Jeanette Ortiz said that since that meeting, the local departments have worked well with the board, delivering more information in a timely manner.

"I think we're in a good place," Ortiz said. "Folks are in agreement that transparency is important, and communication is important. This is new and we're trying to implement the law in a faithful manner."

As for the George Floyd Transparency Project, Ortiz said she welcomes collaboration with community organizations, adding that the board is finding ways to be more on the ground in order to "meet people where they are."

Snowden said he was "delighted" by the idea of working with the county's accountability board but said the caucus has some personnel changes it must make first.

© 2023 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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