- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Prince George's County, Md., police need to be more forthcoming with information about their operations as a way to restore public confidence in the department, a report from a civilian review panel says.
The report recommends an annual report on complaints about use of force, development of a recruitment plan for minorities and creation of a formal process to ensure professional conduct.
The Community Task Force on Police Accountability, a 25-member panel created last summer by County Executive Wayne K. Curry in response to civil rights violations and accusations of excessive police force, handed 57 recommendations yesterday to county leaders.
Mr. Curry and Police Chief John S. Farrell said they would examine the task force's findings and ensure they are not ignored.
"It is my desire that after an appropriate time for reflection, a chance to digest these ingredients, to organize them, that we will be able to report to you which of the steps of these recommendations we feel are achievable and practical," Mr. Curry said.
Chief Farrell said he will examine the report "line by line" and set up a public timetable for addressing the recommendations.
Some of the task force members said their document includes built-in review and accountability mechanisms, checks and balances to ensure that their ideas are taken seriously.
"The thing that I most wanted was real public confidence in the department, that people will be treated fairly with dignity and with respect," said Howard Chasanow, a retired appeals court judge and co-chairman of the task force.
Among the worst problems uncovered by the panel are the complaint process, excessive use of force, and selecting and training the best-suited supervisors.
Some of the recommendations address problems already undergoing change, officials said.
Edythe Flemings Hall, president of the county NAACP chapter and a task force member, called the group's report a first step.
"We were able to address the issue of whether or not the citizens' feelings were just perceptions or reality," she said. "I believe … this is not just perception but this is the reality for a number of citizens in Prince George's County."
Ms. Hall said she was not impressed with the help of some of the participants, specifically the outside police experts, saying "in some instances we did not pursue issues to the extent that we could have."
Mr. Curry set up the task force after two federal juries last year found civil rights violations by arresting officers. The victims were awarded more than $5 million.
Police officials insist the oft-cited statistic that county officers have shot 12 persons, five fatally, within 13 months is misleading.
Seven of the officers in those cases have been exonerated by the department's internal affairs division, a county grand jury and federal authorities.
An eighth officer, Carleton B. Jones, was cleared of any criminal charges by Fairfax County's (Va.) top prosecutor in October. Officer Jones fatally shot a Hyattsville man Sept. 1 in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County after the man rammed his car into the officer's vehicle.
The county Police Department's internal affairs division is still investigating that incident.
The Police Department received 39 force complaints last year the lowest number since 1984 and down from 66 in 1999, statistics show.
Officer-involved contact shootings, in which they hit someone or something, dropped to five last year, the lowest number since 1985.
Total complaints for force, language and harassment dropped 27 percent from 1999 to last year..
In September, former FBI Agent Roy Washington was tapped to head a new office of professional responsibility, which oversees police conduct.
The department, among other moves, also changed its policy for the canine unit, which has been investigated by the Justice Department.
The unit now uses a "guard and bark" protocol, instead of "bite and hold." The department has not received any complaints about its police dogs since that program went into full swing last year, officials said.
The task force report was released shortly after the day's testimony concluded in the case of another shooting involving a county officer at the courthouse across the street.
Officer Brian C. Catlett is charged with manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the shooting death of Gary Albert Hopkins Jr., 19, outside a dance at the West Lanham fire station in November 1999.
Officer Catlett is the first county officer to be tried for killing someone while in uniform. Although he was in uniform, Officer Catlett was working as a security guard and was not on duty. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Yesterday, the defense put a volunteer firefighter on the stand who demonstrated how he saw Mr. Hopkins lunge at another officer, Devin White, grab his gun and begin a "tug-of-war."
Firefighter Dave Rivett stood up at the witness stand and demonstrated how Mr. Hopkins had his armed extended, holding the gun, then was shot and dropped to the ground. Officer Catlett fired that shot, which his defense attorneys say he had to do.
Prosecutors have argued that Officer White put his gun in Mr. Hopkins face, who then pushed it away and grabbed it at one point. But prosecutors insist Mr. Hopkins let go, put his hands up, then was shot by Officer Catlett.
Staff writer John Drake contributed to this article.

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