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Local News

In the Media: Software Aims to Ensure Police Receive Policy Changes; Organizing for Fair Development

Baltimore Police Officers at Camden Yards.

A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: New software will ensure Baltimore police officers receive policy changes, a key issue in Freddie Gray case

"The Baltimore Police Department is rolling out new software that it says will ensure that officers receive and read important information about policy changes and training.

"The department's announcement of the PowerDMS software, which it hopes to launch about July 1, came one day after a judge acquitted a Baltimore officer of four criminal charges in the arrest of Freddie Gray — finding, in part, that prosecutors failed to prove that the officer had received proper training or updated policies on the transportation of detainees in police wagons.

"During his trial, attorneys for Officer Edward M. Nero argued that he had never been trained on placing and seat-belting individuals in transport vans such as the one in which prosecutors say Gray suffered fatal spinal cord injuries. Defense attorneys also said Nero had never opened a department email sent to him just days before Gray's arrest that contained a revised policy mandating seat belts for detainees.

"In clearing Nero of the charges, Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams agreed with Nero's attorneys that without that training or knowledge of the policy, his actions were reasonable — a key standard in the charges against him.

"On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the new software will remove any such confusion.

"'It ensures consistent and timely distribution of policies with an accountability and tracking mechanism, which is very important to ensure our police officers know and can act upon the expectations that are placed upon them by leadership,' Davis said.

"The software, which cost the department about $60,000 for its first year of use, prompts officers with alerts whenever they have been sent a new policy, a new piece of training or other important information. Officers will have to acknowledge receiving the information.

"The software can quiz officers on information they have received, and will alert supervisors if the officers have not signed off on the information after two weeks. The software can be accessed via computer, tablet or smartphone.

"The software is geared toward in-service training and policy updates for active officers, and is not designed to track whether recruits receive complete training at the police academy, an issue that arose in Nero's trial.

"Davis said he has used PowerDMS during previous stints in the police departments of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, and first asked about Baltimore adopting it before Gray's arrest last year.

"Davis said other new measures have been put in place since Gray's death to ensure that policy revisions are noted at roll call. He said the software rollout is one of several 'accountability announcements' that will be made in coming weeks.

"Another will be the department's new use-of-force policy, he said, which it is being updated for the first time since 2003."

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From City Paper: United Workers organize for fair development in Baltimore

"In mid-November, residents from all over City Council District 9 packed into the basement of the Metropolitan United Methodist Church to launch the Baltimore Rising campaign. Seated at dozens of tables throughout the basement, eating home cooked mac and cheese, fried chicken, and string beans, the crowd was enthusiastic.

"'Freddie Gray happened in our faces, we saw that right in our face,' said Alberta Palmer, a UNITE HERE organizer, from the stage. 'The vacant houses, how many of you can walk out the door and there [they are], right in your face. They beat us down, but one thing I do know is that when people get together, they can beat us down. But they can't defeat us.'

"The crowd cheered.

"'That's what we saw happen in April, we became Stephanie [Rawlings-Blake]'s problem. We've gotta keep moving, we've gotta keep pushing, we have to organize our homes, our jobs, our blocks, our families, and get this thing done…we're playing defense. Let's defend. Organize means get together as one, one voice.'

"The crowd clapped and hollered.

"'We don't have all the money in the world, oh they're making sure of it. But we have power if we're together. How many people believe this can be done? It can, it has.'

"UNITE HERE, the union representing hospitality staff, was co-hosting the event with United Workers, a group that first came about in 2002. Peter Sabonis, a lawyer and co-founder of the Homeless Persons Representation Project, wanted to figure out how to help homeless day laborers fight for better working conditions. 'These guys would go to these temporary staffing agencies at 4:30 in the morning, where they'd wait for an assignment, like a construction job, and the agencies would transport the homeless across the region to work for a day as temporary employees,' explained Sabonis. 'You'd come back at the end of the day and get paid, and there'd be all these deductions, and a lot of exploitation.'

"Sabonis reached out to Todd Cherkis, a man living in Washington D.C., who had previously organized day laborers in Atlanta.

"After Cherkis came on board, United Workers began to hold two-hour weekly meetings in a homeless shelter, located in a converted firehouse on Eutaw Street. People would come, organizers would serve pizza, and together the group would study the temp industry and strategize.

"Last summer, United Workers canvassed more than 5,000 homes, speaking with over 1,300 people to learn about the local issues that most concern them. By November, the group had launched its Baltimore Rising campaign, in partnership with UNITE HERE, to galvanize support for quality jobs, affordable housing, and fair development. (The campaign has since been renamed "The Power of Our Potential" after a conservative political advocacy group also named Baltimore Rising formed several months later.) Throughout the campaign, members have been promoting a "20/20 Vision"—a call for $20 million annually invested in public bonds for community land trusts, and $20 million annually invested in public bonds to hire the unemployed to help deconstruct vacants.

"'We realized this is an opportune moment with the upcoming election and local primaries to pursue something like this and push for a real city-wide agenda,' said Cherkis. As a nonprofit, United Workers won't endorse any specific candidates, but will aim to educate politicians about the issues to focus on.

"In January, when Governor Hogan announced his $700 million initiative to demolish vacants and redevelop poor neighborhoods, community advocates were quick to point out that he was actually putting forth very little new money, and no new funds for affordable housing. Removing vacant properties can either be a really great thing, they argued, or it can be the first step to displacing the poor, if nothing else is done to address the speculative pressures on the housing market.

"And now, as the city sorts through details surrounding Port Covington and Under Armour's half-billion dollar tax-increment-financing deal that subsidizes the developer, United Workers is stepping up its advocacy.

"'I think we have made a difference in changing the development conversation, and that's a step in the right direction,' said Cherkis. 'But where we stand is, well, what is the agenda that communities want?'

"Calling for serious public investment to create legal entities like community land trusts, United Workers said it is asking city officials to place Baltimore residents at the center of development decision-making, for what would really be the first time in more than 60 years."

Full Article

From the Baltimore Sun: Salmon Chosen as new Maryland state school superintendent

"Karen B. Salmon, an administrator whose three decades in education have been spent almost entirely in small school systems, was named Maryland state superintendent Tuesday.

"The state school board announced the appointment of Salmon, currently an interim Maryland deputy superintendent, at its monthly meeting. Salmon spent a decade as the superintendent in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore and several years in a small suburban system in New York.

"'We look forward to your leadership. We have a lot of faith. We have a lot of work to do, but I know you are up to it,' said Guffrie M. Smith, the school board president.

"Salmon, 63, will begin June 1 as acting state superintendent and assume the permanent post July 1. Maryland regulations say superintendents must begin July 1. Salmon has not signed a contract with the board, and the details, including her salary, are under negotiation.

"Maryland's schools have been led by an acting superintendent since Superintendent Lillian Lowery left abruptly last summer to take a job in Ohio.

"Salmon takes over as states are grappling with a new federal education law that gives more control to the states and local school systems. In the next several years, Maryland must decide whether to continue education initiatives, including the Common Core standards and new state tests.

"While she said Maryland's schools are outstanding, she believes they face challenges, particularly a lack of equity."

Full Article