Carlos Acosta has an extensive resume in criminal prosecution and program managing but never has worked in a police department.
But he, and others, say that’s exactly why Acosta, nearing the end of his first month on the job, will be an effective inspector general for the Prince George’s County Police Department.
“He looks at things from the prosecutor, Department of Justice standpoint,” said county police Chief Mark A. Magaw. “It’s a good thing to have someone sitting outside the main structure. He provides a whole new perspective that I don't have.”
Acosta, who started Jan. 30, said he wants to make sure officers are accountable for their actions and policies are operating as they should — noting he is evaluating current procedures and practices to see if tweaking is needed.
“I plan to bring a new measure of transparency and accountability,” he said. “Those two words are working hand-in-hand in everything I can do.”
Acosta came from the Department of Justice as a program manager for the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, where he worked to strengthen Mexico’s law enforcement systems, train agencies on extradition, strengthen evidence preservation practices and manage other similar projects.
He comes as the department’s second inspector general, said Capt. Steve Yeun of the county police’s media relations division. The first inspector general, Mark Spencer, was hired in 2003 under then-Police Chief Melvin High. Spencer left in 2010 after taking a job with the Prince George’s County’s Office of the Sheriff as its new inspector general.
Spencer’s annual salary was $125,089 in 2008. Acosta’s salary is currently $161,900, said Julie Parker, a department spokeswoman.
Magaw said Spencer was “under a different chief at a different time,” so he would not comment on the difference in roles between Spencer and Acosta, but said he knows Acosta’s role.
“He has an independent position in the department, to oversee everything and anything he wants to look at,” he said. “He has free reign on the police department and has the authority to recommend to me anything he thinks we should do.”
Prior to being with the Department of Justice, Acosta served as the deputy state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, a trial attorney for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division Gang Squad and a special assistant U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C.
Acosta said while working with the Justice Department, Prince George’s police solicited his advice on how to properly structure a new inspector general position.
“I approached it the way I approach anything — I did research,” Acosta said, noting he was essentially creating a contract and vision for the new position.
He said while offering guidance to the department, he was asked to apply.
“Candidly, I was really intrigued. How often do you get to build your own job?” he said.
Acosta still is setting up his office at the Prince George’s County police headquarters in Palmer Park.
Days after taking office, he was tasked with the handling a police-involved shooting Feb. 3 in Brentwood, where two police officers are accused of lying about events during an alleged attempted robbery of a gas station. The involved officers claimed that a man they shot at reached for an officer’s gun, when video surveillence contradicts that.
The two officers have been suspended, and the case is being investigated. Acosta said he was pleased with the way the department already was conducting itself surrounding the investigation of the police-involved shooting and said he will be very critical about the way officers deploy firearms.
Acosta said one of his first priorities will be to set up a new website specifically for the inspector general office, for both county residents and police department officers to submit anonymous tips or pertinent information to a case or departmental situation.
Additionally, he wants to assess the department and learn more about policing before implementing new policies.
“Right now, I’m wide open. I know the business of prosecution, I’m learning the business of policing,” he said. “As issues come up, I will deal with them.”
Magaw said not many police departments have inspectors general, but added that an inspector general would benefit the department, which is the 29th-largest county police department nationwide.
Fraternal Order of Police President Vince Canales said he thinks Acosta is a good hire and will bring clarification and clarity to the department.
“His position can be utilized in both ways,” he said. There may be some officer misconduct, but in the majority of cases, he will provide some insight to the department of justice and the public that some things are within the guidelines. I think it’s like anything: A little oversight doesn’t hurt anyone.”