Law­mak­ers to re­view po­lice train­ing, of­fer pro­pos­als

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY OVETTA WIG­GINS ovetta.wig­gins@wash­

A bi­par­ti­san group of Mary­land law­mak­ers on Mon­day will begin its work to de­velop rec­om­men­da­tions for im­prov­ing po­lice train­ing and en­hanc­ing po­licecom­mu­nity re­la­tions.

The leg­isla­tive panel was formed last month by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arun­del) and Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and tasked with pro­vid­ing the Gen­eral As­sem­bly leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als to im­prove public safety and polic­ing prac­tices.

The com­mit­tee’s ef­fort comes six weeks af­ter ri­ots broke out in Bal­ti­more af­ter the death of Fred­die Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suf­fered a se­vere spinal cord in­jury while in po­lice cus­tody. Gray died a week af­ter sus­tain­ing the in­jury. Six Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cers have been charged in con­nec­tion with his death.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Bal­ti­more), who walked through­out Bal­ti­more try­ing to spread calm dur­ing the state of emer­gency im­posed be­cause of the un­rest, will be the work group’s co-chair­per­son. She said she looks for­ward to de­vel­op­ing strong pro­pos­als that will change how po­lice are hired and how they in­ter­act with res­i­dents.

“I’m hop­ing that dur­ing the process that we don’t rush,” Pugh said. “I want to con­tinue un­til we are sure that there is a sound pol­icy.”

Pugh said that the com­mit­tee, which will hold an or­ga­ni­za­tional meet­ing Mon­day, will hear from com­mu­nity groups, law en­force­ment agen­cies and crim­i­nal jus­tice ad­vo­cates. It will re­view po­lice train­ing and hir­ing prac­tices, the role of in­de­pen­dent re­view boards in­ves­ti­gat­ing shoot­ings and deaths in­volv­ing po­lice, and Mary­land’s Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers’ Bill of Rights, which among other things gives of­fi­cers 10 days to se­cure rep­re­sen­ta­tion be­fore co­op­er­at­ing with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Pugh said she is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in re­view­ing di­ver­sity train­ing for law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and look­ing at how of­ten of­fi­cers have psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tions.

State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Mont­gomery), who will be part of the 20-mem­ber group, said it will build off the progress the Gen­eral As­sem­bly made this year en­act­ing some crim­i­nal jus­tice re­forms.

“There is this bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus that too many peo­ple are be­ing swept up in the process for non­vi­o­lent and vic­tim­less of­fenses,” Raskin said. That, he said, helped lead to the pas­sage of sev­eral bills de­signed to help ex-of­fend­ers turn their lives around.

Among them was one giv­ing for­mer of­fend­ers the abil­ity to ex­punge some of their crim­i­nal records or shield long-ago or mi­nor con­vic­tions from public view. Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) ve­toed a dif­fer­ent mea­sure that would have al­lowed felons who are on pa­role and pro­ba­tion to vote.

“The con­ver­sa­tion about crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form is tak­ing place at a mo­ment of fallen crime rates, so we are able to take a deep breath and ex­am­ine what is work­ing and what’s not,” Raskin said. “Mean­while, the ad­vent of cell­phone photography also changed the public con­ver­sa­tion about po­lice-com­mu­nity re­la­tion­ships. Sev­eral of th­ese very high-pro­file in­ci­dents from across the coun­try have spot­lighted that there is still a lot of progress to be made.”

This year, the leg­is­la­ture ap­proved a bill that sets the stage for po­lice of­fi­cers to wear body cam­eras. A com­mis­sion will be formed to re­view best prac­tices for us­ing the cam­eras and set statewide pol­icy.

Pugh said that be­cause that com­mis­sion has taken on the is­sue of body cam­eras, the work group can look at other top­ics in­volv­ing po­lice in­ter­ac­tion with com­mu­ni­ties.

Crim­i­nal jus­tice ad­vo­cates have crit­i­cized the Gen­eral As­sem­bly for wa­ter­ing down or killing leg­is­la­tion deal­ing with po­lice con­duct, in­clud­ing a mea­sure that would have re­quired the state pros­e­cu­tor to in­ves­ti­gate all po­lice-in­volved deaths.

Del. Brett R. Wil­son, an as­sis­tant state’s at­tor­ney who is part of the work group, said he has asked the panel to gather in­for­ma­tion about po­lice-in­volved shoot­ings and deaths across the state.

“We need the num­bers so we are deal­ing with facts, not anec­dotes,” said Wil­son (R-Wash­ing­ton). He wants to look into the cir­cum­stances of each po­lice-in­volved death, the race of the vic­tim and whether the vic­tim was armed.

“If we start from there, then we can look at the causes— was it a lapse of train­ing, overzeal­ous­ness or some­thing else?” Wil­son said.

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