Maryland Senate confirms first Black head of state police

By Brian Witte,
The Associated Press

The Maryland Senate confirmed Lt. Col. Roland Butler on March 31 to be the first Black superintendent of the Maryland State Police, a department under a federal discrimination probe.

The Senate voted 43-4 to confirm Gov. Wes Moore’s appointee, who came under questioning largely because he has worked at the department for nearly three decades and held a significant leadership post in the agency under scrutiny.

The governor, however, said Butler’s experience in the department is what it needs. Moore said in a statement March 31 after Butler’s confirmation that he “is the best person to move the Maryland Department of State Police forward.”

“Lt. Col. Butler will work in partnership to execute his vision and reform the department by increasing morale, building trust, and addressing the concerns that were raised both prior to his tenure and during the nomination process,” Moore said, adding that Butler “has my full confidence.”

While Moore has stood strongly behind Butler’s appointment, several senators were not convinced he was the right person to bring needed reforms.

Sen. Michael Jackson, a Prince George’s County Democrat, noted that there are 166 Black law enforcement officers in a state police force of more than 1,400, when there were nearly 300 Black officers a few years ago.

“This is about a group of folks within that agency who are literally dying on the vine,” Jackson said, joining opposing senators who pushed unsuccessfully to delay the confirmation vote.

Sen. Pam Beidle, who is the chair of the Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee and voted to confirm Butler, emphasized that accountability measures were being built into the state budget to gauge how well the new superintendent meets goals he outlined to the committee.

She noted plans to increase investment in recruitment and retention. She also underscored the development of the agency’s promotion system, an increase of staffing and expertise in an office that focuses on equity concerns and a discipline review team that will examine cases.

Beidle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said lawmakers are requiring reports in July and December on how well Butler meets goals.

“The governor has committed that if things do not improve in the department and morale is not better that there will be a replacement,” Beidle said.

Whether Butler would have the votes for confirmation had been uncertain for weeks. Support in the committee weighing his nomination was unclear as recently as March 27, when Butler appeared before the panel. The committee ended up voting 15-2 in support of his appointment after his testimony March 27 and details about the accountability measures were announced March 29.

Butler has served as chief of the State Police Field Operations Bureau, leading a force of more than 1,000 troopers and investigative personnel assigned to 23 barracks.

During his confirmation hearing March 27, Butler said he was committed to moving the agency into a new era.

“It is my top priority,” Butler said. “I’ve heard your concerns and the concerns of your constituents, and I’m absolutely committed to addressing these issues head on. To begin, we must acknowledge and address all bias and discriminatory practices.”

In October, three Maryland State Police officers filed a proposed federal class-action lawsuit against the department alleging widespread racial discrimination. The lawsuit alleges that the agency disciplines officers of color more harshly than White officers.

In July, the U.S. Justice Department announced an investigation to determine if the department engaged in racially discriminatory hiring and promotion.

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