The Maryland State Police superintendent appeared before some state lawmakers Thursday to address allegations of racial discrimination in his department.
Col. Jerry Jones answered tough questions from Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus to answer some tough questions a day after News4’s report on data that appears to show fewer Black officers being hired and promoted, and Black officers being disciplined more harshly than their white counterparts.
“It hurts to know that I’ve got people who don't feel that they are part of a family,” he said.
“We have an issue with hiring, we have an issue with recruitment and the discipline is shameful,” Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George's County, said.
The superintendent defended his agency's recruitment of African Americans, citing partnerships with historically black colleges and universities.
“The recruiting campaign is focused on attracting trooper applicants from underrepresented communities,” he said. “We're using social media and a variety of other channels used by today’s young people to enable them to see themselves in the role of a Maryland state trooper.”
Data obtained from Maryland State Police shows a steady decline in the number of Black officers, falling from 304 in 2003 to 172 this year — a 43% decline in almost 20 years.
“I have been a member of this caucus for 14 years; for 14 years we have had this issue,” Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, said.
Jones said the discrimination allegations shared by the caucus and in the News4 report were too vague to address without the hearing directly from the troopers.
“I want to be clear that these folks that have felt that they’ve suffered from discrimination or mistreatment, I want them to come forward so we can investigate these matters,” he said.
“A lot of these officers are afraid to come before whatever investigation within the department because of fear of retaliation,” said Del. Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s County, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
The caucus, like the troopers News4 interviewed, wants a change in culture.
“Every time I meet with you, I'll ask you what have you done to reach out to these young men and women to give them opportunities as African American men and women to grow and succeed in the state police,: Sen. Arthur Ellis, D-Charles County, said.
The leadership of Maryland's Legislative Black Caucus asked the superintendent to return in 30 days with a detailed plan for how to address these concerns and how his agency will move forward.