Baltimore Sun

Some of­fi­cials say law prob­lem­atic

Group: Ditch Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers’ Bill of Rights

- By Pamela Wood Police brutality · Crime · U.S. News · Society · Discrimination · Politics · Law Enforcement · Human Rights · Law · Maryland · Annapolis · U.S. Naval Academy · Delaware · Montgomery County · Democratic Party (United States) · United States of America · Republican Party (United States) · Michael Jackson · Fraternal Order of Police · Baltimore · Howard County · Goucher College

A group of state law­mak­ers en­dorsed re­peal­ing the Mary­land Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers’ Bill of Rights, a ten­ta­tive first step to­ward jet­ti­son­ing a law that many be­lieve pro­tects po­lice of­fi­cers from be­ing held ac­count­able for bad acts. The rec­om­men­da­tion is one of sev­eral made Thurs­day by a House of Del­e­gates work group and could form the ba­sis of leg­is­la­tion that the Gen­eral Assem­bly would con­sider when law­mak­ers re­turn in Jan­uary to Annapolis.

Some law­mak­ers and ac­tivists have honed in on the law for years as prob­lem­atic, but ef­forts to re­peal it have fallen short.

Thurs­day’s move ap­peared to be the first time a group of Mary­land law­mak­ers en­dorsed re­peal­ing the law. The law spells out the dis­ci­plinary process for po­lice, in­clud­ing af­ford­ing of­fi­cers ac­cused of mis­con­duct a five-day win­dow be­fore they must speak with in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Del. Gabriel Acevero, a Montgomery County Demo­crat, noted that Mary­land was the first state to pass such a law for po­lice of­fi­cers, in 1974. Re­peal­ing it here could have a “rip­ple ef­fect” on other states, he said.

“Mary­land pro­vided the blue­print to Amer­ica on how to pro­tect cor­rupt and racist cops by pass­ing the Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers’ Bill of Rights and pro­vid­ing these un­due and un­nec­es­sary pro­tec­tions for law en­force­ment of­fi­cers that or­di­nary cit­i­zens do not have,” he said.

The vote was split, with nine Democrats vot­ing in fa­vor of re­peal­ing the law and four Repub­li­cans and one Demo­crat op­posed.

Some of those op­posed said they pre­ferred to re­work the ex­ist­ing law, or cre­ate one to take its place. Del. Michael Jack­son, a Demo­crat who is a for­mer Prince Ge­orge’s County sher­iff, said he thought it would be bet­ter to ex­am­ine the var­i­ous pro­vi­sions within the law.

“There are seg­ments to this body of work that I think are worth dis­cussing,” he said.

Po­lice of­fi­cers main­tain the bill of rights should re­main in place, said Frank D. Bos­ton III, lob­by­ist for the state Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice. He said the law has suf­fi­cient checks and bal­ances and is a “fair sys­tem to all.”

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the time and ef­fort that the work group on po­lice ac­count­abil­ity has put in on a very se­ri­ous is­sue,” Bos­ton said. “That said, LEOBR works fine.”

The work group’s rec­om­men­da­tion comes as po­lice ac­count­abil­ity re­forms have gained new­found sup­port as more Mary­lan­ders have be­come aware of in­equitable treat­ment of mi­nori­ties by law en­force­ment.

The bi­par­ti­san House of Del­e­gates work group was ap­pointed by Speaker Adri­enne A. Jones, who charged it with div­ing into how to change how po­lice do their jobs, and how of­fi­cers are held ac­count­able for dis­re­gard­ing rules and pro­ce­dures.

The work group’s other rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude:

■ Re­quir­ing an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion of cases in which of­fi­cers have shot peo­ple or oth­er­wise killed or se­ri­ously in­jured in­di­vid­u­als. It did not spec­ify which agency should con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Cre­at­ing a stan­dard for types of force that are not al­lowed to be used by po­lice, in­clud­ing ad­dress­ing choke­holds and putting hand­cuffed in­di­vid­u­als face­down.

Cre­at­ing penal­ties for of­fi­cers who vi­o­late the use-of-force law, in­clud­ing up to 10 years in pri­son if con­victed.

■ Re­quir­ing the Mary­land Po­lice Train­ing and Stan­dards Com­mis­sion to main­tain a data­base of of­fi­cers fired for use-of-force vi­o­la­tions.

Es­tab­lish­ing that of­fi­cers have a duty to in­ter­vene when a col­league is us­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate force.

Lim­it­ing when of­fi­cers can seek “no­knock” war­rants, so they can only ask for them when there is a threat to the safety of of­fi­cers or in­di­vid­u­als.

Re­quir­ing po­lice de­part­ments to cre­ate “early warn­ing sys­tems” to iden­tify prob­lem­atic of­fi­cers and in­volv­ing more civil­ians in po­lice trial boards that re­view dis­ci­plinary cases.

At a meet­ing last week, work group mem­bers made other rec­om­men­da­tions in­clud­ing: re­quir­ing body cameras for of­fi­cers by 2025, man­dat­ing more fit­ness and psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­ams for of­fi­cers, re­quir­ing im­plicit bias train­ing, ban­ning po­lice unions from ne­go­ti­at­ing dis­ci­plinary mea­sures and re­turn­ing con­trol of the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment from the state to the city. Some mem­bers ex­pressed con­cern that some top­ics were not dis­cussed, such as chang­ing the Mary­land Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion Act, which al­lows po­lice to shield dis­ci­plinary records from pub­lic scru­tiny. Del. Vanessa At­ter­beary, the work group’s chair, said law­mak­ers are free to in­tro­duce any bills on po­lice or pub­lic in­for­ma­tion on their own.

“I’m sure we will see a wide breadth of polic­ing is­sues when we re­turn for the 2021 leg­isla­tive ses­sion,” said At­ter­beary, a Howard County Demo­crat.

The state Se­nate also is look­ing at changes to polic­ing. The Ju­di­cial Pro­ceed­ings Com­mit­tee held hear­ings on more than a dozen pro­pos­als last month.

The fo­cus on polic­ing is­sues this sum­mer and fall sig­nals that lead­ers of the Demo­cratic-ma­jor­ity Gen­eral Assem­bly are keenly in­ter­ested in pass­ing po­lice re­form dur­ing the 2021 ses­sion.

A re­cent Goucher Col­lege Poll of Mary­lan­ders found strong sup­port for many of the re­forms un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. Among the poll’s find­ings were 85% sup­port for in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tions of po­lice mis­con­duct and 79% sup­port for cre­at­ing a statewide use-of-force stan­dard. A coali­tion of dozens of civil rights and pro­gres­sive groups has crit­i­cized the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s ap­proach to polic­ing leg­is­la­tion, call­ing it a “lead­er­ship-cen­tric style of pol­i­cy­mak­ing” that hin­ders progress.

The Mary­land Coali­tion for Jus­tice and Po­lice Ac­count­abil­ity sug­gested that in­stead of Demo­cratic lead­ers “of­fer­ing a big lead­er­ship bill,” they should fol­low the lead of lower-rank­ing leg­is­la­tors who have been “cham­pi­ons” for im­prov­ing polic­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA